Survivor Song review: A pandemic survival tale against the clock

Set over just eight hours at the height of a pandemic, we review Paul Tremblay’s latest novel, Survivor Song.

Survivor Song review: A pandemic survival tale against the clock

Natalie is pregnant and waiting for her husband to come home with the shopping. She would have gone herself but there is a pandemic going on and outside is not a safe place for an expectant mother.

You see, the state of Massachusetts has succumbed to an infection of super-rabies. Having made the leap from animal to human, it leaves its victims foaming at the mouth and uncontrollably violent. When Natalie is exposed to the virus it becomes a race against time to try and save not only herself but her unborn baby; could a zombie ever give birth to a healthy child? The question doesn’t bear thinking about but Survivor Song no longer feels like a work of far-fetched fiction but a timely real life horror.

With an omnipresent ticking time bomb hanging over Natalie, she conscripts her life-long friend and Doctor (how handy) Ramola to help get her to the hospital and deliver the baby.

Author Paul Tremblay has managed to deliver a page-turning race against time that makes for enjoyable if uncomfortable reading. This fast-paced horror doesn’t wait around, and by switching between the POV of both Natalie and Ramola you find yourself inescapably strapped into the story and the only way to make it out is to keep moving forward.

Tremblay creates a real sense of affinity for his characters and with every chapter you will them (and yourself) to go on, not wanting to accept the reality of the situation. There is an overarching feeling of crushing inevitability and yet the visceral depictions of the characters’ futile desperation to survive means that the ending never feels like a completely forgone conclusion. The ambiguity of hope helps to drive the breakneck pace and given that the book is set over the course of eight hours you find yourself almost reading in real-time.

The book is set very much in today’s America and it does not side-step the hot button topics of today’s civil unrest or controversial government. Whether readers want to avoid some of these harsh realities given the current pandemic is, of course, up to them. Either way, Survivor Song is a heart-pounding and heartbreaking showcase of the human will to survive in extraordinary(ish) circumstances.

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay is out now from Titan.
Get it on Apple Books