Note that this review is for the first 4 books (0-3) in the series as I listened to them as one big long story. I will try to avoid spoilers.
The contamination started in the American Southwest, and Book 0 (St. Matthews) opens in a small town (St. Matthews) in Arizona. Dan Lowery is a police officer in this small town and as the contamination spreads, the violence escalates. Pretty soon he feels he must get to his wife and daughter, see them safe, before he can do anything further to help the townspeople. However, there is an organized force working against any would-be rescuers.
Book 1 (The Onset) takes place in New Mexico, some of it in a nearly abandoned village (White Mist) and the rest in places such as Albuquerque. Sam Cooke continues on as the last remaining resident of White Mist when the contamination strikes. Meanwhile, two college kids just finished moving a couple to Albuquerque when they come upon a messy car wreck and the surviving woman, Delta.
In Book 2 (Crossroads), the two bands from the first two books come together at an old junk yard. These folks start to piece together what they know and guess about what they don’t. They also have to make choices about what to do next.
Book 3 (Wasteland) finds that our band has suffered yet more losses. One young man feels the need to see if his family, who live in the Pacific Northwest, are still alive. Meanwhile, Sam and Delta feel they need to track down the rumored source of the contamination in Salt Lake City, UT.
Sam & Delta were my favorite characters in the series (so far). Sam lost his family to a fire and Delta lost her father to prison. Their relationship starts off complex and moves into something close to platonic camaraderie. Also, Delta is the only adult female we get to spend quality time with in the series (there are 2 or 3 other ladies referred to but they die too soon to get to know, and then there is one female kid). Despite her being the token female for the story, she holds her own well, having plenty to offer the reader in character depth. I am hoping that the author chooses to add more ladies to the story as it moves forward as he can clearly write them. I do have to mention that occasionally, our characters were slow to learn, like trusting strangers a little to easily even weeks after the initial outbreak. While these were the weak points in the plot, I was able to forgive them as the stupidity of the characters moved the plot forward.
The plotline had hints of other same-genre books, such as Stephen King’s The Stand. Couple this with the Southwest setting, and I felt right at home from the beginning. It is an easy story to jump into and enjoy. While certain elements were a little predictable, there were other twists (such as the initial relationship between Delta and Sam) that I didn’t see coming at all. It was a good mix. The AZ/NM setting was enough for folks to get an idea of the expanse of the country; however, I felt it lacked the ethnic diversity we have.
Now let me talk about the bad guys. Oh! The baddies! I loved hating on these guys and they were pretty fascinating too. Each was into this organized, purposeful contamination for their own reasons, and several felt they were indeed heroes. I loved the amount of detail that went in to some of them – their reasons, their backstories. It definitely made the plot a bit more grey, gave the reader pause when deciding which team to get behind.
Narration: Troy Duran did a good job with this book. Each of his male characters had a distinct voice and he had a variety of contaminated undead (nearly dead?) voices also (and I would count this a talent). While the ladies were slimly represented, he did a good job with them also. I felt his strongest voices went to the maniacal bad guys when they waxed eloquent about world domination.