What remains after a mysterious virus wipes out most of the population? Nicole R. Taylor explores just that, creating a world where those who survive the illness into some kind of mutant-zombies and the rest who escaped infection are left to endure in a greatly altered landscape. What Remains examines the effects of isolation and the emotional impact of having to do horrible things in the name of survival.
Prue Ashford hasn’t spoken to another human in three years, at least, not to another human who wasn’t trying to kill her. Armed with a samurai sword and a few years of cathartic martial arts training, she’s been surviving alone in the Australian bush since narrowly escaping the desperate government quarantine designed to contain the virus (though it ultimately fails). Already having a bad day, having been very seriously wounded by an old hunter’s trap, Prue crosses paths with a stranger who takes a shot at her before she gets the upper hand. Passing out from the wound, the stranger carries her to a village community that miraculously escaped the virus and survived, saving her life. Prue struggles to come to terms with what she had to in the name of survival and being around people again, specifically, learning how to trust again.
The novel confronts those themes solidly, if not as subtly as I would have liked. At times, Prue’s back and forth can become a little repetitive, but it isn’t entirely unrealistic (just a little tedious, bordering on the melodramatic). She makes brief mention of the difficulties she had growing up and a failed relationship before the virus outbreak that demolished the population. She occasionally flashes back to incidents where she was attacked in the bush or to the events surrounding the quarantine, but she states those are the reason rather than showing any of those incidents. Since much of the novel revolves around the possibility of a romantic connection between Prue and Shaw (the man who brought her to the town), it would help to have more of a picture of that initial relationship that emotionally devastated her.
The timeline of the novel is fuzzy pretty much throughout. There are moments when it seems that Prue is describing several weeks having passed and in the next moment, it turns out its only a day or two later. Some of the supporting cast could have used a bit more character development. Many of them feel a little too ‘typed.’ There’s the bitchy girl interested in the guy the protagonist likes; there’s the instant best friend; there’s the grandmother figure that everyone in the town loves.
My favorite aspect of the novel and the aspect I wish there was more of, is the virus and its aftermath. Though Prue refuses to view the creatures that survivors of the infection became as zombies, that’s the main thing they sound like. Instead, she calls them ‘mutants’ (which bothered me more than it should but that might be because I’ve re-watched the X-Men movies recently). If this is indeed a new terrifying monster, I think it should have a name of its own. If Taylor were to follow What Remains with a related (though not necessarily a sequel per se) novel that tells the tale of the outbreak, quarantine, and transition into these mutant-zombies (I guess that would make it a prequel of sorts), I think it would be even better than What Remains.