Having just broken up with his girlfriend, Mason is all too willing to shut himself away and ignore the world for a week. But when he does try to resume his life, the world he awakens to is one where every move is fraught with danger. And death isn’t necessarily the end.
The virus responsible for the danger is never fully explained but it doesn’t need to be. It’s origins aren’t really important compared to it’s effects. The main characters sketch them out briefly and in simple terms. The first sign of infection is the blindness that effects Mackenzie. The second stage is a ferocious blood-thirst typified by what Mason calls the wilders. And stage 3 is the creepers, where even normally wounds can’t stop the attackers.
The main character, Mason, is misanthropic and bitter at the beginning of the novel. He fights to survive mainly by instinct, without much forward thinking. Once he meets Mackenzie, a young girl in the early stage of infection, and takes responsibly for her, he gradually begins to open up. Mackenzie’s trust and vulnerability awakens a protectiveness in him and he agrees to help her look for her aunt, regardless of the risk involved.
Given that the bulk of the story is carried by Mason, the author spends a good amount of time exploring his inner thoughts. He moves from initial reluctance to engage with anyone to growing affection for Mackenzie and a fierce (in one case homicidal) desire to keep her safe. At the same time, there is the knowledge that Mackenzie’s infection will progress and he will be forced to kill her . All of this serves to give Mason much greater depth than might otherwise be expected.
Stage 3 features a limited cast. Beyond Mason and Mackenzie, after the outbreak takes hold there are only three speaking characters. The author uses each of these to illustrate how different people could respond to a potential apocalyptic event. One clings to hope and tries to support others, one is ready to give in to despair and one sees it as an excuse to indulge their darkest impulses. The way these are written makes them very believable.
There’s a great deal of action and brutality in Stage 3, which is to be expected but it reads very well. If you’ll forgive the choice of words, I devoured the book, reading most of it in a single day. For fans of horror or zombie fiction, I would recommend this wholeheartedly.