Trigger Warning: The Last Flag contains many scenes of violence and gore, including child abuse. If you have any sensitivities regarding these topics or want to avoid reading such works, proceed with caution.
Today I will be reviewing The Last Flag by Wren Cavanagh, which I was given an advanced reader copy of in exchange for my honest review.
The Last Flag follows the production of a reality survival show by the same name, abbreviated as TLF. A mysterious health crisis has gripped the world, and it’s turning the dead into that which many fear: the undead. Known as the turned or the returned, anyone who dies seems to be susceptible to becoming one of these cannibalistic zombies. The U.S. military, in the hopes of containing the epidemic, rounded up as much of the turned as they could and fenced them into an evacuated town in Oregon called Prideful.
What does Hollywood do in the face of this crisis? Make a TV show, of course! Contestants, all with their own motivations for competing, must race each other and the turned of Prideful for flags worth thousands of dollars. Although the production was hastily thrown together, the studio feels no reason to fear for the safety of the teams or their cameramen. They have eyes on the teams 24/7 and anyone can call for a helicopter rescue at any time. What could go wrong?
When the producer gets called away for a family emergency, the readers find out just how wrong a reality show can go, especially when the undead are involved. Not everything happens of its own accord; someone is pulling the strings, delaying rescues and forcing production’s hand. Who is doing this? Why? Will someone put a stop to the show before things get dire or are the cast and crew of TLF zombie chow?
I have to start this review by pointing out that I am not a fan of the modern-day zombie. I’m interested in the socio-psychological implications of the contagion aspect but, overall, I’d rather return to the traditional Haitian folklore. Regardless, I actually found this book very interesting.
The Last Flag is gritty, gory, and vulgar, and I love it for that. Cavanagh writes the scenario in a way which is uniquely 21st-century, as uncensored supernatural realism. The competing teams create a diverse cast, from a stubborn military vet to a young-but-fatherly homosexual African American to a fanatic Christian family unit complete with an innocent, blonde-haired daughter. The host is alcoholic, one of the competitors is an under-aged runaway from foster care, and the producer is a devoted father to his wife’s son from another relationship. The ill, the abusive, and the abused are all represented, and readers get to develop an attachment to each of them.
I would have actually liked if Cavanagh could’ve explored certain characters, particularly competitors and cameramen, more. They all have unique backgrounds and are so different from each other that I felt as though the 259 pages could not do them justice. Of course, this story is more plot-driven than character-driven, so the amount of character development fits the genre and plot.
Cavanagh breaks the tension with humor, namely through the competitors’ and cameramen’s interactions. She introduces one particular source of humor which is difficult to pull off: social media. Cavanagh incorporates social media reactions to the TV show between some chapters. I’ve found that it’s hard to bring social media into writing, even in modern books, without it sounding cheesy, slapstick, or forced. The Last Flag manages to use Tweets for humor while not lowering the quality of the work overall.
Don’t be fooled; many elements of the modern zombie story remain. People do stupid and greedy things, innocent bystanders get eaten, and, in the end, you have to wonder if it is all worth the losses. So many people who don’t even want to be there run into trouble, to the point that I grew mad at the other characters for being so selfish. That, I think, shows how Cavanagh’s writing has come into its own with this book. I felt very strongly for many characters, even underdeveloped ones, and I experienced strong emotional reactions from their conflicts.
Given the rest of the book, the epilogue comes across as lackluster. It’s rushed compared to other scenes, throwing a lot of information at the readers at once while only touching upon the character’s emotions. The epilogue has the feel of a “where are they now” segment, which I found very interesting. Still, it felt out-of-place with the action which had transpired only pages before. The best part of the epilogue, I think, is the promise of future books which may or may not include a couple of characters from this first one. Perhaps, with more books, we’ll gain a better understanding of the aftermath.
Normally, I don’t like when a book ends without providing an explanation for a mystery within it. No one within the story knows what triggered the sudden existence of the walking dead. It seems to most likely be some sort of virus, but the cause is never fully explained. The absence of an explanation bothers me some. However, this book seems to only be the first in a series, so I suspect that Cavanagh will give us more insight in future installments.
As with Summer of Magic and Of Cats and Sea Monsters, The Last Flag has proofreading and syntax flaws. These did, at some points, hold me up. I would like to say that they aren’t as bad as with her other books that I reviewed. I found them easier to overcome, even with having to re-read a couple parts when words were missing. I’m certain that these errors will be fixed in upcoming editions, so I wouldn’t focus so much on that unless they persist in re-releases.
Overall, The Last Flag is an entertaining read with an interesting twist on modern-day zombies. I don’t recommend this book for the squeamish as it does get gory and violent, but if you like action-packed and emotional novels (not to mention zombies), I think you should check it out.
For more information, check out Notch’s House Publishing’s website and find e-book and print copies of the book on Amazon.
Have suggestions for books I should review? Want me to review your published work? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me on Fiverr. Don’t forget to leave your thoughts on Cavanagh’s book in the comments; I’m sure she’d love to hear more feedback.