For the most part, I don’t intentionally seek out dystopian books that have zombies in them. In fact, I haven’t read such a novel since The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor last summer. That may have all changed after reading The Scourge by A.G. Henley. Although The Scourge isn’t primarily a zombie novel, it is certainly an integral part of the story. Arguably, The Scourge is a dystopian novel first, a romance novel second, and a zombie novel last. All three elements were wonderfully written, however, and I honestly can’t decide which I loved best.
What makes the book extra special is that the main character, Fennel, is blind (Sightless). When the Scourge comes (a.k.a. the zombies), Fennel’s people, the Groundlings, must escape to the safety of the caves in order to avoid being consumed. For some inexplicable reason, the Sightless are protected from the Scourge, so it becomes Fennel’s duty to collect water for both her people, and for the people who live above them in the trees, otherwise known as the Lofties. Fennel has a Lofty Keeper, Peree, whose duty it is to watch over her from the trees.
It didn’t take long before the story jumped right into the thick of things, with Fennel taking up her Water Bearer responsibilities. It was so endearing to listen to Peree share stories with Fennel as she walked among the “fleshies”. I couldn’t help but love him and how he helped to talk her through it, protecting her as best he could. It was clear that he already felt a connection with her.
Fennel was also a wonderful character. She was not the least bit annoying, as so many teenaged girls tend to be. She was continually struggling with her duty to her people vs. what was best for herself. I perceived her as utterly selfless, almost frustratingly so. Some of her descriptions in the book felt a bit too visual for a Sightless girl, but for me, they weren’t glaringly obvious and I was able to easily overlook them.
The story quickly began to shift from the Scourge to the relationship between Fennel and Peree. While I wouldn’t go so far as to describe the Groundlings and Lofties as sworn enemies, they certainly weren’t allies, and there was an ever-present tension between the two groups throughout the entire book. This made the development of Fenn’s and Peree’s relationship all the more interesting, as it wasn’t something that was socially acceptable in their world. I did feel that the sexual tension between them went on for a bit too long, but maybe that’s just my own impatience.
The book started to drag in the latter half, even though this was where a good amount of secrets were revealed. We learn some astonishing things about Fennel, Peree, the Scourge and their world in general. The book picked back up again towards the end, and finished just as solidly as it started.