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.
“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.”