Reviewed by Lex Allen for Readers' Favorite
In Stage 3 by Ken Stark, a zombie virus has hit the world with a bang and main character, Mason, a misanthrope who survives the initial pandemic by locking himself in his apartment following a horrific airplane incident, finds himself surrounded. Emerging from his hideaway, unaware of the disease that has turned ninety percent of the population into zombies, Mason immediately encounters a few of the infected. He quickly adapts, destroys them, and begins his search for other survivors. He encounters Mack, a young, blind girl mature for her age, who proves the theory that people who suffer a malady of a single sense have heightened abilities in another of the five senses—or six, in this case. Mack is searching for her Aunt Sarah and Mason agrees to help her. But, the odds are long as the aunt, if she survived, is in a far corner of the city and in between are oceans of the walking dead.
There are numerous comparisons between Stage 3 and other zombie apocalypse tales, but it’s the dissimilarities of other zombie tales that put Ken Stark at the top of the zombie author charts. Stark’s monsters are different, a fact evident through explanation of the title approximately one-third into the story. Mason and Mack construct a believable pair of survivors whose interactions and depth of character display the human psyche at its best. Mason’s development, thanks to Mack’s maturity and insight, is a beautifully sculpted and integral part of the story that alone would be worth the read. There’s lots of gore, fighting, and a variety of bad guys (other than the zombies) that keep the action going, the plot thickening, and the pages turning. For me, the constant battles that comprised seventy to eighty percent of each chapter were a bit much, but for zombie fans that’s probably just the right amount. Stark is a master wordsmith. His insight into character development, realistic dialogue, and the right amount and timing of twists that keep the reader reading are second to none. I highly recommend Stage 3 to zombie and horror fans, but also those who enjoy a human story embedded in an action-packed apocalyptic tale.