Review: Working Stiff by Rachel Caine

I am incredibly impressed to see Rachel Caine offer such a different type of story than her other two UF series, Weather Warden and Outcast Season. Faintly skeezed out, to be honest, but impressed. I was surprised to see Caine dip her toe into the zombie genre, but I willingly followed, based on past success with her writing style. I wasn’t disappointed, but I was surprised. I knew this would be about zombies, but I thought the heroine’s role would be different based on the vague back cover summary and past experience with UFs.

Bryn was just the type of UF heroine I like. I was wary about how she would be portrayed after I read that she was fresh from the military, but I shouldn’t have troubled myself. Bryn was not portrayed as a Wonder Woman and, having been in the military, I easily related to her struggles (but eagerness) to slip back into a civilian role. Her worry about the appropriateness of her outfit choice after having been stuck in a uniform for years and her wry observations about civilian bosses being just like military CO’s made it easy for me to slip into her shoes and sympathize.

I loved that Bryn got her butt kicked more often than not. Well, I didn’t love the fact that she was hurt, but I liked that she wasn’t played up to be more elite than she was just because she was in a military supply unit in the war. Because, honestly, she wouldn’t have been authentic cast as a Rambo type after coming from that MOS. I also really enjoyed how normal her emotions were. She wasn’t emotionally stunted and closed off. She even cried! She didn’t do it frequently, but her life was turned upside down and she didn’t always react calmly. All throughout the book she struggled to cope with how her life had changed. She never whined about it, but I don’t think I would have blamed her if she did. The girl got a raw deal.

Where this book really excelled for me—beyond the characters, which I loved—was the harsh look at the new reality that Bryn was forced to deal with. It was, to put it quite bluntly, terrifying. The lack of control she had over her life, her body, had me feeling jittery, and it wasn’t even me. Everywhere I looked, there were more bad deals, just equipped with a differing degree of suckage. Bryn had to face the fact that she no longer ruled her life and that there was no escape for the foreseeable future. I loved the story, and I loved the grittiness of it, but the lack of sugar-coating on Bryn’s situation made me feel sympathetically claustrophobic and trapped. Add that to the horror of facing the truth about what she is and, more importantly, what she can easily become without the shot, and you have an incredibly intense and emotional story.

Although Working Stiff could be gory and gritty, Caine paired it well with a nice dose of humor to help lighten the mood when it got too dark. Although this was not a Romance, there is a nice little relationship in the making. We only got to see the foundation laid out here, but it looks to be a good pairing. The love interest, Patrick McCallister, and Bryn seem to have their fair share of issues to work out before they can settle into couplehood, not the least of which is the reality of what she has turned into. I felt that Pat was brushing it aside a little too easily and really preferred Bryn’s struggle with it, because I was struggling with it. Caine made sure to expose us to situations that wouldn’t allow us to ignore the truth of what she was dealing with. It’s not cute, it’s not a game. It’s horrifying and I am still completely freaked out by it.

The fact that I don’t like zombies and yet I completely loved this book is a true testament to the author’s skill. I occasionally found myself sympathizing with a few—well, one, really—of the “bad guys” and their lack of compassion toward the welfare of the victims. I can’t say that I didn’t find myself struggling with the exact same opinion that he/she had, so it was hard not to see their side of things. My struggle with that made it quite an interesting read.

Favorite Quote:

“You are unbelievable.”

There went that tiny little smile again, tight and controlled, meaning nothing. “I do date, Bryn. Occasionally.”

She bet he did it on a schedule. 1900 to 2100 hours, dinner. 2100 to 2115, drive the girl home. 2115 to 2130, sex. 2135, shower, kiss good-bye. 2140, drive home.

“I don’t date jackasses,” she said. “Just so we’re clear.”

Rating: A
Working Stiff by Rachel Caine
August 2nd 2011 by Roc
Urban Fantasy
Series list
GoodReads Reviews


  1. says I’m not a huge zombie fan either – so I set this book aside. I’ve never read Caine though and have always wanted to try her. So with an A from you – I’m going to have to read this one! :)

    • says

      I’m a big Caine fan, but I was able to connect with her Weather Warden and Outcast Season series a lot easier than this one. I like Djinn and magic powers much better than zombies.

      Despite myself, this book hooked me and kept me riveted. I struggled with my revulsion for zombies while reading, but Caine made pains not to glamorize it, so the characters struggled with it right alongside me.

      I hope you enjoy it if you end up trying it!

  2. says

    I don’t like zombies either – they totally skeeve me out – but I loved, loved, loved Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie, which was kinda gross in parts, too. This sounds like it’s in a similar vein, so I’ll have to check it out!

  3. says

    Okay so no Mark Henry type zombies to compare to in Working Stiff, good because my copy is sitting calling my name and now I am even more anxious to read it Catherine. It was nice to know that Rachel Caine had a new series, this is the first review of the book that I have read and you have relieved my worries about what to look forward to, thanks for that big time!

    • says

      I’ve never read that author, so I’m not sure if they can be compared. You’ve made me curious. What type of zombies does he have? Are they the shambling type?

      I’d love to hear what you thought of it when you finish it. Feel free to stop back by to chat in depth about it.

      • says

        Mark has some very snarky zombies but the main character featured is Amanda Feral, she is a “glam gal” but without the makeup and perfume ICK!

        Ask WLP Nat, she can tell you all about the three books in the series the author wrote as she is his number one fan and Amanda Feral supporter.
        (I have only read book 1 so far “Happy Hour Of The Damned” but here is the link to goodreads with book synopsis and names Amanda Feral series by Mark Henry.

      • says

        Finished “Working Stiff” and think I know why the zombies bothered you more than vampires Catherine. Author Rachel Caine made them “real” in a way that most vampire characters are not. For one thing,usually, even when we read the back story of a vampire’s human life we know that it is make believe but in this book the characters were not given a choice to become undead for the most part and that was the squick factor for me.. The fact that most of them were victims and once they were changed they of course had the instinct to live, no matter what the cost. Of course the same thing could be said about a vampire, but unlike the vampires these zombies were fully functioning with breath and bodily functions and the need to eat and drink real food and beverages that were not blood.

        I liked it but will not be continuing the series, even though the ending was a sort of HEA for Bryn and Pat it still gave me the heebie jeebies after I read it! :-)

        • says

          I think you might be right. There was a level of reality and feasibility that made me highly uncomfortable. The fact that these people were victimized again and again by the very nature of the drug had me feeling antsy and powerless–and I wasn’t even in the book!

  4. says

    Fantastic review, Catherine! I said I wasn’t going to add another Caine book to my TBR-since I haven’t read “Ill Wind” or “Undone” yet-but now I can’t resist. Zombies, you said? Gore, you say? Sign me up!

    • says

      The war against the TBR mountain is a continuous thing, isn’t it? There are just so many interesting books out there!

      Whichever Caine you decide to read, I hope you love it. You should listen to me and get on it, though. I was right about the Guardian series, wasn’t I? 😉

      • says

        LOL! You were totally right about the Guardian series. But I also remember Katyana screaming bloody murder over the “Weather Warden” series…& her brilliant “F YOU!” review.

        • says

          You would have to remember that part, wouldn’t you? 😛 Yeah, she did have a rather spectacular meltdown about it. I felt completely different about the book, but even I couldn’t help but crack up.


  1. […] Working Stiff by Rachel Caine: I am not a zombie fan (blech!) but somehow I found myself completely absorbed by this unique world. I loved that the author made it impossible for the reader to ignore the truth about what the reanimated people are and can become again, while still making it impossible for us to see them as anything other than alive. By turns gritty, gory, and humorous, this book had me riveted. I can’t wait to see what comes next in this series. If you’d like to read the review for this A level book, you can find it here. […]