In the beginning, Chase’s close first person perspective adds dark humor to a depressed situation. It takes time for him to understand if he and Type are hallucinating or if this is really happening. They travel throughout St. Paul and scavenge for supplies, but their addiction quickly takes priority. The dark humor fades as the story progresses, and a heavy truth hangs over the novel: There is nothing left but desperation and doom. This is the apocalypse. It is a worst nightmare come back to life.
The rest of the novel follows Chase and Typewriter as they try to move from dealer to dealer, and, as they realize the only survivors are people like them. Somehow, methamphetamines ward off whatever disease it is that has ravaged the Earth. This premise is certainly interesting, but the mystery behind the apocalypse and why methamphetamines are key, never take center stage. Fiend is first and foremost a story about drug abuse. Chase spends time recounting vivid memories of a life torn between habit and family, love and selfishness, his highs and his lows.
The zombie (or Chuck, as the zombies are called in the novel) plotline may not be new, but the many action sequences are handled well and should please any zombie enthusiast. The drug abuse is handled with an unflinching voice, and Chase’s memories and internal struggle are the novel’s highlights. What that amounts to is a depressed yet energetic, well written novel with an interesting premise, and Stenson definitely delivers with a talented voice.
On the other hand, the story is a bit contained, trapped in the mind of the narrator so much so that the plot feels, perhaps, somewhat too simple for the zombie apocalypse. Fiend also leaves the reader with a notion that is universally known: hard drugs are all-consuming, self-destructive, etc. Drug addiction, not Chase’s insight, takes over, and a bit more of Chase’s insight would have been welcomed.
Overall, Fiend is a hard-hitting, adrenaline-fueled novel that is worth a read for anyone looking for a dark zombie novel with a twist, or a dark character study into addiction.
Three and a Half Flesh-Eating Chucks out of Five