YA Weekend Audio: Contagion by Erin Bowman
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Contagion
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: HarperAudio (July 24, 2018)
Length: 9 hrs and 37 mins
Narrator: Amy McFadden
Contagion by Erin Bowman stars the ragtag crew of the Odyssey, a mining ship that responds to an SOS at a seemingly deserted base on a remote planet. Led by their determined by green captain Dylan Lowe, the team immediately begins searching for survivors but instead find a pile of dead bodies. The ship’s doctor, microbiologist Dr. Lisbeth Tarlow appears baffled at the cause of all the death and carnage, but her seventeen-year-old intern Thea Sadik suspects her mentor may know more than she lets on.
Meanwhile, the Odyssey’s pilot Nova Singh struggles with her developing feelings for Dylan, even as the headstrong captain makes increasingly impulsive decisions that endanger her people. On the planet, the crew also finds a disturbing message along with a chilling video made by one of the personnel before he died. Not long afterwards, the group is separated and Thea’s life is saved by a mysterious young man who claims to be the only survivor. But who is he and where did he come from? How did he stay alive when no one else was spared by whatever killed them? Finding the answers becomes imperative as one of the Odyssey’s crew suddenly becomes infected with an unknown contagion, putting all of their lives at risk unless the outbreak can be contained.
As someone who has seen my fair share of sci-fi/horror movies, books, games, comics etc. featuring some variation of the space zombie, I have to say Contagion was pretty mediocre and only mildly entertaining. To be fair, it’s tough to write a book like this, precisely because it’s been done before…so many times before. Some authors attempt to spin the story a different way, or offer something unique as a hook. Personally, I love that. It’s what keeps me coming back to this genre. The problem here though, was I just didn’t see anything too special. Bowman’s a great writer, and certainly I would put her prose at a level above the typical YA novel, but truth be told, her atmosphere and suspense building could have been better, and any fan of horror will tell you, those two things are kind of a biggie.
That said, it’s clear the author wanted the strength of her novel to be in her characters. She’s populated Contagion with a diverse cast, who were for the most part interesting to read about. Where the story stumbles, however, is the narrative mode. Told in third-person omniscient, we are bounced between POVs to cover no less than half a dozen of the crew members when really there’s only a handful of characters readers are made to care about. The rest felt like distraction and served to weaken the character development as a whole. I want to say I liked the characters, but the reality is I didn’t feel like I got to know any of them too well, and no one really stood out as all that unique or special. Kind of like this book (even though it makes me feel crummy to say it).
The action is what drove much of the entertainment. Even then, the suspense was a bit muted because I wasn’t invested enough in the characters to feel the full emotional impact even when terrible stuff happened to them, but at least the story wasn’t boring. The world was also intriguing, though I have the feeling we’ve only scratched the surface. The hints of political intrigue and corporate conspiracies given here don’t play much into the plot, though I wish they had. The ending also closes on a rather blunt “to be continued”, so I assume much of the set-up here will be elaborated upon in the sequel.
Ultimately, I found Contagion to be a very middle-of-the-road read—entertaining enough, but nothing special to write home about. Still, despite my mixed feelings, I have not dismissed the possibility of continuing with the series, though I’ll probably wait to read a few reviews of the next book before making my decision.
Audiobook Comments: I think Amy McFadden did a great job narrating, but some books just beg for multiple narrators. Given the number of characters in Contagion and their different personalities and voices, the addition of more narrators here probably would have benefited the flow of the story and increased my interest, but overall I still enjoyed the listen.