Author: Michael Thomas Ford
May Contain Spoilers
The First Rule of Torching: Cleanse with fire.
Josh is by far the best zombie Torcher around—at least, he is in his virtual-reality zombie-hunting game. Josh has quickly risen through the player ranks, relying on the skill, cunning, and agility of a real Torcher.
The Second Rule of Torching: Save all humans.
But luckily for Josh, zombies exist only in the virtual world. The real zombie war is now more than fifteen years in the past, and the battle to defeat the deadly epidemic that devastated his family—and millions of others—is the stuff of history lessons.
The Third Rule of Torching: You can’t bring them back.
Charlie is the top-ranked player in the game. Since all the players are shrouded in anonymity, Josh never expects Charlie to be a girl—and he never expects the offer she makes him: to join the underground gaming league that takes the virtual-reality game off the screen and into the streets. Josh is thrilled. But the more involved he gets, the more he realizes that not everything is what it seems. Real blood is spilling, members of the team are disappearing, and the zombies in the game are acting strange. And then there’s the matter of a mysterious drug called Z. . . .
After my harrowing weekend, I needed a brainless kind of a book, the more action involved and the less thinking on my part, the better. Instead of watching the Super Bowl by myself, I picked up Z, since it was due back at the library soon and I hadn’t even started it yet. This was a great choice, because the book moves along like a Formula One racecar and had just enough of a plot to keep me involved in the story and wondering what was going on. Lead character Josh irritated me occasionally, but mainly because he was acting like a teenage boy. Under the circumstances, his mother was more than understanding when he choose to ignore house rules, and then he was most unrepentant about his behavior.
Josh has gotten addicted to a virtual reality game, where survival depends on how quickly he can torch zombies. Josh isn’t supposed to be playing the game, and both of his parents strongly disapprove of it. It trivializes the recent past, when a zombie virus swept through the population, leading to the death of many, including Josh’s aunt. For Josh, the zombie virus is a distant memory, a lesson to be covered in history class; it isn’t much more than that to him, even knowing that his mother suffered so much during the plague. He doesn’t understand why they can’t see his point of view; it’s nothing but harmless entertainment.
When Josh is approached to play a real-life version of the game, he is stoked. He can use a real flame-thrower to take out fake zombies, and he make a whole new group of cool friends, too. He loves playing the game, and he is starting to really like Charlie, a girl who plays like nobody’s business. She totally rocks at the virtual game, and she holds her own in the real-life version. She’s cute and funny, and suddenly, Josh doesn’t have time to hang out with his best friend Firecracker anymore. Nothing matters but the game, and getting to know Charlie better.
Though he irritated me, Josh was very relatable. He quickly gets caught up in something far larger than himself, and he is helpless to get out. He is doing something his parents would never approve of, and so he starts telling lies to cover up his new hobby. He is intoxicated with all of the new experiences, and he is having the time of his life. Sure, he feels guilty for being dishonest, and also for blowing off his best friend, but he can’t stop himself. When he discovers that the game is more dangerous than he realized, and that Clatter, the game organizer, isn’t as nice as he pretends, Josh has a lot of decisions to make, and even more growing up to do.
Z is a fun read, with a ton of action that won’t let you put the book down. I finished it in only a few hours, and the storyline kept me engaged the entire time. Josh even shows some character development, and he started to think that maybe his parents aren’t so wrong after all. If I have any quibble about the book, it’s that Josh wasn’t terrified and afraid for his life until the very end. He is a bit clueless, and doesn’t put two and two together until it’s almost too late. It also wasn’t as scary as I was hoping, but since I am a chicken, perhaps that was for the best.
Review copy obtained from my local library