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Book Review – Stage 3: Bravo by Ken Stark

When we return to the Stage 3 series, Mace, Mackenzie, and Sarah are right where we left them. They’re adapting to their environment and learning what this new world demands. Stark uses their previous experiences to sculpt them into the characters they’re becoming. These changes become most evident in Mackenzie as she adapts to the world she’ll inherit.

Through Mack and the other “kids,” Stark shows us the risks of raising children in such a dangerous world. These people are dealing with more than trying to keep their children alive. They’re trying to teach them how to survive a waking nightmare. Stark shows his characters navigating these waters and accepting the harshness involved. He uses the environmental stressors to show what makes each character tick. The way they respond to the environment helps round out their personalities.

Using this same environment, Stark highlights what humanity is capable of under dire circumstances. The pictures he paints of neighborhoods and people torn apart, not by zombies but the humans that lived there, speak to the brutal nature of humanity. Just as those scenes show what humanity is capable of, so do the scenes of a group of mostly strangers banding together to help each other survive. The author captures both these realities within the series.

Stage 3: Bravo reveals a few details we didn’t know in the previous books. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but the author’s use of technology and science to explain what happened both with the illness and people fleeing it is creative and well thought out. I wish more authors found such creative uses and hindrances for the tech that surrounds us.

The author has done an amazing job with the pacing in this story. The scenes with the horde are intense and demanding. Our heroes might be crossing the space between buildings, but Stark makes you feel each painful step. He goes further to balance these dramatic, action scenes with our characters’ downtime. Sometimes in the form of comedic relief and at other times using these moments to humanize the characters.

Throughout the series, Stark has laced his books with bits of music, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to their adventure. It made me consider what I’d want to hear in the apocalypse. Many of us would miss music. Hearing those songs from another time, from a better time, they’d have the power to undo some and bolster others. I love that Stark continues to use this musical element in his stories.

TL;DR – When a book about zombies and gore makes you cry, you wonder whether the book is really about the zombie apocalypse or whether it’s about relationships and humanity. And, you know you’ve found an outstanding author.

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