Contagion

Contagion was written by Teri Terry and first published in 2017. It is a science fiction thriller that focuses on two teenagers as they investigate a deadly disease that is sweeping across the United Kingdom. The book forms the first part of the Dark Matter series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Callie barely remembers anything about her life before she was taken to the laboratory. She doesn’t remember her parents or where she lived. The pain that the mysterious Dr 1 inflicted on her has erased everything but her name. They told her that she was sick and they were trying to help her, yet their “cure” proved to be fatal.

Yet Callie didn’t die. At least, not entirely. Freed from her physical form, she drifts around the complex. She witnesses the first outbreak of the disease and sees it spread amongst the scientists and nurses, rapidly causing organ failure and death. Yet she can’t seem to find Dr 1 anywhere and so she sets out on a mission to locate him and learn the truth of who she once was.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, a teenage girl called Shay meets with Callie’s older brother, Kai. Shay is pretty sure that she witnessed the disappearance of Callie the previous summer, remembering seeing the little girl being taken away by two men in a black car. She offers to help Kai investigate her disappearance, but they have made little headway before the disease begins to spread. Soon, Scottish cities begin to go into lock-down and the death count steadily rises. Yet Shay and Kai are still determined to discover what happened. However, to do so they will now have to cross quarantine zones and even risk becoming infected themselves…

Contagion is a fast-paced novel that is quick to draw the reader in. While I did find Callie’s opening chapter to be a little confusing, the story soon found its feet. As Shay and Kai begin their search, and Callie watches the disease (known as the Aberdeen Flu) spread through the compound, I soon found that I could not put the novel down. I was desperate to read on and discover just what was going on.

At first, the plot seems to be a pretty standard “plague” story. If you’ve ever seen Outbreak or The Andromeda Strain, you’ll have pretty good idea of what to expect. There’s the unexpected outbreak, the rapid onset of the deadly disease, and the frantic scramble to understand it. However, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary plague story and that there is far more than this actually going on.

As Callie’s spirit tries to solve her own death and the rare survivors of the Aberdeen Flu begin to display odd abilities, the story rapidly takes on a science fiction tone. I don’t want to say too much here as there is a lot that I could spoil, but I did find the novel’s faux-science to be very interesting. It leads to a couple of brilliant twists that you may not see coming.

However, as enthralling as the novel was, it was not perfect. It was painfully clear that this book is designed to be the first part of a longer series, as there was no closure whatsoever. Contagion ends on a frustratingly abrupt cliff-hanger, which left a number of plot points (including the nature of the cult and the identity of Dr 1) completely unresolved. This was probably the weakest aspect of the story as it meant that it didn’t feel like a complete novel in its own right. It was more like an extended introduction to the series.

I also felt as though there was a little too much repetition in the story. Contagion is pushing 500 pages long and a lot of space was spent reminding the reader of what they already knew. A good example of this is Callie’s “cure”. The reader sees Callie being burned alive at the end of the opening chapter, yet Callie frequently reminds them of this fact. She talks about her pain and confusion, as well as her desire for revenge. This is, of course, totally unnecessary. The reader saw her death and it’s not the kind of thing that they’re likely to forget about.

My final problem is more of a personal one. I just didn’t find the novel frightening. Really, it should have been. The Aberdeen Flu is highly contagious, fatal 95% of the time, and has no cure. However, the narrative of the story made me feel distanced from this horror. While some of the deaths made me feel a little sad, neither of the narrators (Callie and Shay) seemed to be especially affected by the horrors that they saw. Because of their lack of emotion, I also didn’t feel especially bothered by the mass deaths. Sad but true. A novel of this sort needs to be emotive to truly grip the reader. Contagion unfortunately failed in this regard.

Yet, aside from this emotional detachment, I really did like Terry’s protagonists. Shay, Kai and Callie were all really realistic characters. None of the three were paragons of virtue as they all had deep rooted personality flaws. They weren’t always nice and didn’t always make very sound decisions. However, this made them feel like real people.

For the most part, the story followed Shay and Kai. While their relationship seemed to bloom a little quickly (they only meet a couple of times before Kai shows he will risk his life for Shay), I soon became very invested in it. The two of them make a great couple and complimented each other well – Kai’s passion and drive providing a necessary counterpoint to Shay’s intelligence and photographic memory.

While I personally found myself rooting for Shay, Callie was probably the most complicated character of the lot. As a little girl who has been put through Hell, she has a habit of behaving in a very self-serving manner. While I sometimes hated her for this, I still couldn’t deny that her actions always felt very natural.

I should probably stop talking now, as I really don’t want to spoil any of this novel for you. Contagion isn’t perfect, but I did enjoy it on the whole. It has some great characters and was a very exciting story from start to finish. If you’re a fan of science fiction thrillers like Michael Grant’s Gone series, you will certainly get a kick out this one.

Contagion can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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