Symbiont is the sequel to Parasite and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.
The sleepwalkers are rapidly taking over San Francisco, with the threat of quarantine looming. Now that Sal Mitchell has rescued her dogs, she can return to Dr Cale’s secret lab, where scientists are busy looking for answers. Why are the tapeworms taking over and how can they be stopped? And where does Sal, coming to terms with her real identity, fit in? If it comes to taking sides, which should she choose?
You can’t be part of nature if you’re trying to be clean all the time.
Tansy’s story is shocking and heart-breaking. Her viewpoints are probably the most powerful parts of this story, even if they are limited. The world Sal now lives in is starting to become very cruel indeed and there’s some hard to swallow scenes. Fishy, new to the scene, is delusional, refusing to accept the apocalypse is really happening and he thinks he’s just inside a video game. In some of the final chapters, this becomes endearing and also made me chuckle in the face of imminent doom.
Things had seemed almost hopeful only a few seconds before, even if “hope” had been redefined on the local level to mean “slightly less bleak.”
Without giving too much away, I loved the parts that were set in an abandoned chocolate factory that was kitted out to resemble Wonka’s. Apocalyptic tales are usually full of derelict buildings and a limited colour palette. It’s such fun to put in such a contrasting location. There were others living in a mall that gave a nod to Dawn of the Dead.
The sleepwalkers may not technically be zombies, but Symbiont feels much more like a zombie story than Parasite did. The tapeworms are driven by hunger, and they might nosh down on the healthy, but they are killable and they will starve. There’s a point where, through Sal’s eyes, you start to feel pity towards them. They’re not evil monsters intent on destroying humanity, unlike some people she knows. They are simply confused and starving.
Every human was the result of social and cultural recombination, picking up a turn of phrase here, an idea or a preconception there, the same way bacteria picked up and traded genes.
My main gripe about Symbiont that meant it didn’t quite live up to Parasite, was what felt like a lack of editing. There’s a lot of repetition in Sal’s thoughts, going over and over how she has her phobia of cars and it was all SymboGen’s fault. She also keeps telling us how she came to be. If you’re halfway through the second book and haven’t grasped that yet, you’re really not paying attention. I think it would have been a lot stronger book if it were 100 pages shorter.
I’m starting to tire a little of Sal but I love the world and many of the supporting characters. The idea of tapeworms being gender neutral gives Mira Grant a chance to incorporate a trans character. Someone who is trapped inside a female body feeling that they are male. I also loved the dogs continued presence by Sal’s side. Just because it’s the end of the world, doesn’t mean there’s not time for doggy affection.
Book Source: Purchased
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