Peter Stenson‘s Fiend may just be the best book you read this year. On the surface, it’s a zombie genre novel, but as the story develops and progresses, it’s more an indictment on the horrors of drug addiction. As I read it, flashes of Trainspotting and Don Winslow’s Savages shone through. Ultimately, Fiend travels along at a frenetic pace and will stick with you for days. It’s been about a month since I read it, and I still think about some of the issues it brought up.
Fiend follows junkie Chase Daniels through the zombie apocalypse. What he originally thought was an after effect of his drug use ends up being a legitimate zombie threat. The zombies in Fiend are absolutely terrifying. Instead of the Romero Living Dead or the Walkers we’ve become accustomed to from The Walking Dead, Fiend‘s zombies are maniacal and chilling. Instead of moaning and groaning, Stenson’s zombie chuckle uncontrollably – almost like Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in Dark Knight.
During this zombie apocalypse, it’s revealed that the only human survivors were junkies. Chase, and his junkie compatriot Typewriter find themselves trying to survive the zombie-laden environment while also trying to score their next hit. This puts the two in a variety of predicaments that range from comical to absolutely devastating.
Characterization is also a key component to Fiend. As a former junkie, author Peter Stenson paints a picture that is chilling and ultimately hopeless. While the store focuses on Chase and Typewriter, a potbelly drug dealer named The Albino and Chase’s girlfriend KK, also play key roles. He doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t care how uncomfortable the situations and the novel’s pacing makes the reader.
Fiend is brutal, vulgar, sexual, and pulls absolutely no punches. You will feel sick to your stomach after some of the decisions the main players make. You’ll be frightened by the zombies. You’ll want to help Chase begin to make better decisions. You’ll realize that no matter how much you want to help, it won’t matter. This is a novel about the horrors of addiction masquerading as a zombie novel. With Stenson’s pacing, reading Fiend may feel like a sprint, but the emotional aftermath is definitely a marathon.