Book Review: Domino Falls, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Domino Falls follows the events of Devil’s Wake, penned by the same authors. The concept behind the infection in these books borrows from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later, throws them all into a grinder and spits out people who ingest the latest diet fad mushroom, get a flu shot, and turn into a rampaging freak with a need to bite their neighbors. Sounds cool right? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

I had mixed feelings about Devil’s Wake and Domino Falls brought out the same mixed feelings.

Domino FallsFrom the publisher: It began on Freak Day—that day no one could explain, when strangers and family members alike went crazy and started biting one another. Some thought the outbreak was caused by a flu shot, others that it was a diet drug gone terribly wrong. All anyone knew is that once you were bitten and went to sleep, you woke up a freak.

The freaks come out at night…

Domino Falls, to me, felt like an incomplete book. It’s supposed to be a continuation of Devil’s Wake, yet I think if the authors had combined the best of both books, they would have had one excellent book instead of two mediocre books. The action and tension from our band of survivors trying to outrun, outlive, and outsmart the infected, which made Devil’s Wake a decent read is largely missing from Domino Falls. Instead readers follow our group of survivors as they seek, and find, refuge behind a gated and secure city called…Domino Falls.

There was never really a sense of danger for any of our characters. Instead readers get to see how being safe changes them, albeit only temporarily. Because, let’s face it, any blind person could see something was bound to go wrong once our main characters arrived. For me, the atmosphere was hugely lacking. Gone were the infected attacks. Sure, we get some other less than creepy stuff, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Think of season two of AMC’s The Walking Dead television show, you know, the season where Rick and company spent pretty much every episode on Herschel’s farm. It was boring. Domino Falls finds itself in the same sort of trap. Sure our characters are safe, and the authors do a good job showing us why, but we lose that sense of danger lurking around each corner.

What Domino Falls focuses on instead is building character. Many of our smart mouthed, immature, and degenerate characters from the first book are looked at more closely. With the exception of Kendra, who I enjoyed through both books, there really isn’t much to like. Our authors approach this rag-tag group of teenage delinquents like they’re some sort of rock stars. I found it laughable when middle aged folks clamored to follow an eighteen year old. Really? I wasn’t buying it. By the end of Domino Falls Ursalina grew on me. The rest of the survivors, not so much.

There were some plot issues here as well. ***Minor spoiler alert ahead!*** Take when Kendra has a gut feeling like there’s something seriously wrong with half the town and not even her boyfriend, who encourages her to follow her instincts, will listen to her without solid proof. Or how a certain community leader has gotten away with his nefarious deeds for two months and no one organized to challenge him. Seems a bit sketchy to me. I understand people like the idea of living behind those fences, but c’mon man, nobody is taking any member of my family!

The pacing dragged at times. With little to no action, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sections of this book slowed to a crawl. I understood what the authors were trying to accomplish, that the real threat is from humanity (or within), but, to me, Domino Falls came across a little flat.

The concept behind the infection was, and is, a great addition to a crowded zombie field. I also enjoyed the diverse cast of characters and absolutely loved following Kendra during the initial outbreak. The beginning of Devil’s Wake is worth reading just for that. Following Kendra’s further adventures almost made this book worthwhile. The exploration of Ursalina’s character was also a nice addition. However, wooden characters like Sonia and Piranha did little to add to the story. By the end of the book I was hoping one or more of these characters wouldn’t make it, which is the opposite of how I was supposed to feel. Go get ’em, zombies! Nom-nom-nom!

What I liked:

  • The concept. Anytime an intergalactic spore looks to form a symbiotic relationship with the human race by taking us over is a great concept. I also like how after you are bitten you won’t fully turn until you fall asleep. We also learn more about the infection and its origins. Awesome.
  • The characters. Kendra and Ursalina were interesting characters to learn about. Readers continue to care about what happens with Kendra while being exposed to what makes former soldier, Ursalina, tick.
  • The diversity. Bringing street smart teens of all colors into a post apocalyptic world should be more commonplace. I mean I grew up around all different colors and religions. Anything set in a large city should have a diverse cast of characters. Bravo to the authors.

What I didn’t like:

  • The atmosphere. It felt too safe. Most of the danger of a post apocalyptic world felt like it was missing in Domino Falls. Much of the underlying feeling of dread felt forced and unbelievable. At no point did I fear for any of the main characters.
  • The characters. Some of the characters came across as wooden, hollow. They would often contradict earlier actions and brought little to the table. I simply didn’t care what happened to them.
  • The pacing. Since there is little relevant action until the end, the pace suffers. Certain points felt like a chore to read. While exploring what makes characters tick can be helpful, without significant action to help further the plot, it fizzles.
  • The action. What little action readers get feels like an afterthought instead of pertinent plot points. It seemed like the authors felt like they should have action, so they threw in a few throwaway action scenes where our heroes were in harms way…for contact lenses. This seriously happens.
  • The villain. I can’t say much without spoiling things, but even his name felt like a joke. The tension created between the threadies and townies felt manufactured instead of organic. At no point did I fear, or believe our villain was the person the authors painted him to be. His character came across as a stretch at best, and not the nefarious megalomaniac he was supposed to be.

Overall: I’m giving Domino Falls two and a half out of five stars. It’s a decent book which I’m sure some casual horror readers will enjoy. Despite the awesome concept, zombie purists probably won’t go along willingly for this ride. Too little action, flip-flopping characters, and a slow pace makes finishing this book feel like a chore at times. I would have liked this story better if the authors had combined it with Devil’s Wake to make one interesting read instead of two “meh” reads. And that’s exactly how I feel about Domino Falls, meh. I won’t read the next installment. An interesting concept can only carry a series so far.

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One comment

  1. I know what you mean about not feeling any fear for the main characters. There’s got to be a balance between that and being so full of danger that you can hardly breathe because you’re so scared everyone is about to die. I had been feeling like that about my favorite show, because they kept threatening to kill off one of the main characters, but you always knew they wouldn’t do it. I suppose that worked for them though because when they finally did kill him I was caught completely off guard.

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