[Content Note: Mental Illness, and poor treatment of same in literature]
Resident Evil: Caliban Cove
by S.D. Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Resident Evil: Caliban Cove (Book 2) / 9781781161869
I was a big fan of S.D. Perry's first book in this series (The Umbrella Conspiracy), and Caliban Cove continues to deliver the same level of enjoyment and superb writing. I'll note upfront that I haven't played the video games, so I don't know how well these books match the game-canon, but in terms of zombie novels set in the Umbrella mythos, this series delivers great action, wonderful characterization, and a lot of suspenseful thrills.
Caliban Cove picks up after the end of Umbrella Conspiracy: the STARS team members who came back alive from the mansion are on the losing end of a conspiracy theory to cover up the virus spill, and one of the few allies they have decides to launch a raid on another Umbrella facility in order to get the evidence they need to clear their good name. For the raid, he needs the help of Rebecca Chambers, along with a group of genuinely well-characterized folks whose survival is NOT assured since (as far as I know) none of them ever show up in the video games. So the tension is ratcheted up immensely when Anyone Can Die.
In terms of the good stuff: S.D. Perry is obviously a very skilled writer. Some franchise novelizations are very poorly written and/or poorly plotted (which, as a dedicated Aliens fan, I know all too well!), but Perry's novels are in my opinion just as good as anything else available at your local bookstore and aren't trying to coast crappy writing on the strength of the franchise label. So even if you're not a hardcore fan of the Resident Evil series, these books are genuinely good zombie/monster novels with a lot of isolation and suspense and creepy thrills to make the books genuinely engaging. The characters do occasionally engage in foolish behavior in order to facilitate the plot, but it's obvious that Perry does her best to handwave these events so that they're not *too* jarring.
As far as the bad goes: My biggest disappointment with this series is its total embrace of the idea that evil people are mentally ill and that mental illness equals a dangerous menace to society. I realize that the people in charge of this franchise probably think someone would have to be "crazy" to want to zombify the world, but (a) the movies have thoroughly demonstrated other just as plausible reasons (greed, cruelty, elitism, stupidity, malice, a desire to lord over the ashes of society, etc.) and (b) blaming all this on one "mad scientist" completely obscures the many just-as-dangerous "sane" people who gave him a laboratory and zero oversight in the first place. The book even opens with a quote about how evil really needs mental illness in order to properly thrive (“Through avarice, evil smiles; through insanity, it sings.”) and it comes off as unnecessary and jarring. Whether you can swim through this to get at an otherwise good story will vary by reader, I think.
If you won't be bothered by the repeated hammering on mentally ill people (most of whom are far more likely to be hurt by non-mentally ill people than they are to harm anyone themselves), then there's a good zombie story in here. Note that these zombies aren't quite your "typical" zombies, as the ones in this book are able to carry and use guns and otherwise respond to stimuli (which I enjoyed for variety's sake but some purists may not).
~ Ana Mardoll