If you asked me to sum up Peter Stenson's Fiend in just a few words, I'd say it's Trainspotting meets Shaun of the Dead. No doubt about it, this is one fucked up novel! If you have become blasé with the whole apocalyptic zombie angle, Fiend is definitely for you!
Here's the blurb:
When Chase Daniels first sees the little girl in umbrella socks tearing open the Rottweiler, he's not too concerned. As a longtime meth addict, he’s no stranger to horrifying, drug-fueled hallucinations. But as he and his fellow junkies soon discover, the little girl is no illusion. The end of the world really has arrived. The funny thing is, Chase’s life was over long before the apocalypse got here, his existence already reduced to a stinking basement apartment and a filthy mattress and an endless grind of buying and selling and using. He’s lied and cheated and stolen and broken his parents’ hearts a thousand times. And he threw away his only shot at sobriety a long time ago, when he chose the embrace of the drug over the woman he still loves. And if your life’s already shattered beyond any normal hopes of redemption…well, maybe the end of the world is an opportunity. Maybe it’s a last chance for Chase to hit restart and become the man he once dreamed of being. Soon he’s fighting to reconnect with his lost love and dreaming of becoming her hero among civilization’s ruins. But is salvation just another pipe dream? Propelled by a blistering first-person voice and featuring a powerfully compelling antihero, Fiend is at once a riveting portrait of addiction, a pitch-black love story, and a meditation on hope, redemption, and delusion—not to mention one hell of a zombie novel.
This is a relatively slim book, and hence the worldbuilding is almost nonexistent. Which is kind of a shame, as we never get to discover how humanity somehow turned into zombies almost overnight. À la Steven Erikson in Gardens of the Moon, Stenson throws you into the middle of the action right from the get-go. And while this is good for the rhythm of the book, it offers basically zero background on the entire premise of the story. Zombies are known as Chucklers and somehow meth addicts are immune to whatever is turning everyone into undead creatures.
The first-person narrative of Chase Daniels is what gives this novel its unique flavor. Yes, he is a hopeless addict and an all-around douchebag for the most part. And yet, you can't help but to root for him. And for all his me-myself-and-I ways, at times, whether sober or totally wasted, Chase experiences a number of unanticipated epiphanies that create truly poignant moments. Hope and the importance of family are two themes that are explored throughout the book and they generate the episodes delivering the most emotional impact. The supporting cast plays a capital role in getting this tale off the ground, and Fiend would never have been the same without Typewriter, the Albino, and KK.
Fiend is a fast-paced novel, a real page-turner. Weighing in at only 295 pages, you quickly reach the end. The plotline is pretty much simple and straightforward. In order to remain human, Chase and his friends must find a way to stay supplied with drugs, which means finding someone who can "cook" meth. But with everyone in Minnesota either dead or turned into a zombie, the road will be more arduous than even delusional drug addicts ever thought possible.
Featuring an unlikely protagonist with a very ambiguous moral compass, who just might be humanity's last hope for survival, Fiend is novel which I feel could be quite divisive, what with all the drugs and related stuff. Not the best tools in the shed on the best of days, there is no question that Chase and Typewriter are a lot of fun to follow. Peter Stenson has imbued this one with a dark and cynical sense of humor which is totally appropriate. Still, there are also dramatic moments that make you stop and think, which makes you realize that Fiend is more than just a novel about stoners battling zombies.The unexpected ending also caps everything off with an exclamation point.
In the end, Peter Stenson's debut is a fun, engaging, gritty, and entertaining novel. You just need to buckle up, not ask too many questions, and enjoy the ride!