This review originally appeared in cabingoddess.com.
Medical thrillers which involve pandemics are at the top of my list of favorite types of reads. I love procedural novels, technical novels. Novels requiring empirical evidence and research and know how, and this one is full of it in spades. I am sure that Brian O’Grady being a neurosurgeon helps just a wee bit also, considering which organ the pathogen involves, the brain!
Amanda’s Story is a prequel, and I really wanted to read Hybrid first to get a base line but it was unavailable in Kindle at the time I was first reading this book. I am really glad I had no background now. It starts off like many stories of this nature, in the belly of the beast, the lab. We learn the origins behind the “building” of a bio-weapon, one for whomever for whatever reasons, (there are specifics but for the purpose of why I bring this up it does not matter to the story honestly), and we have our first description on the volatile nature of just what is created. Beast being a keyword here, for what happens after exposure is one that I would not want to wish upon anyone, including my enemy.
Here is where many of these stories lose me, they all read the same, not the symptoms or the reactions but what loses me has to do with believability. Here is where Brian O’Grady steps up his game, he describes what is happening, at least in parcels just enough for the medical jargon not to be lost in “fringe,” but believable because again… who better to tell us what is happening to one’s brain. But even the medical background is not enough, it is the tiny aspect of the “what-if.” It is what happens to society, much like a zombie tale, it is not about the monster but the response in society, culture and the individual which makes the tale. O’Grady took that little nuance straight to the top, because this ultimately is a literary story about what happens not only on a micro-level with the individual, but also with the larger macro-level. Though the majority of the world has no clue what is going on, we do as readers, the government does and this snagged me into the story as I watch the decimation of all involved.
Amanda herself starts off lost. Lost in her own world and grief after the deaths of her family. Needing to start anew, she looks for a way to focus and funnel her energy and move on. Having been one a caregiver she picks something which allows her to continue being a caregiver, a member for a first responder for Red Cross. Pretty extreme, but again this is something many of us do. We go from one extreme to another in attempt to distance ourselves as far from where we were at mentally, and sometimes this will involve physically as possible. She got her wish in spades and it left me far from disappointed, it was an amazing trip around the world and back again.
What would happen if you were the only one to survive something that has killed everyone else? First her husband and child and now she is the sole surviving member of the response team and apparently a whole town. I am not sure I would be able to handle it and stay intact, and arguably Amanda did not truly stay intact. The tale started slipping a bit for me after she is “rescued” from her predicament and basically held hostage in a facility while they did test after test with yet another megalomaniac whom is “attempting” to isolate what has made her the one who would not die. But I also believe it was necessary for the story to have a bit of humanity thrown into the cold petri dish of the lab environment. It certainly was not a bad thing and turns out to make what happens when she finally leaves the lab more believable.
I started really getting a bit frustrated with the story here. I guess because I hate when I get involved as much as I did with Amanda and liking her, feeling such compassion only to see her being beat down again and losing herself. My pom-poms stayed untouched for now and we end up having some other people to focus on, such as her in-laws who have always been there for her.
I loved her in-laws, loved how they were doing their best to understand and help despite Amanda’s daily loss and grip on reality, (or is she?). Some of the “Dexter” like moments, only because it skittered close to the edge of yet another story of a sociopath, because I never saw her as one plus she is not really being a vigilante and I can argue here that she may see herself as a sociopath but she is displaying more psychopathic behavior.. argh I digress and give a bit of a spoiler. As much as I say I was frustrated with this, it not a ding or something I think is wrong with the story. I believe O’Grady meant for me to feel this frustration, wanted me get to the point of yelling “COME ON give her a BREAK!” and he does! Just as the story gets me about to chuck my Fire across the room, boom it takes just enough of a turn, or injects me with a “literary sedative” to calm my happy butt down so I can settle back into the tale.
There is a heck of a lot more that happening throughout this from beginning to end. There are character studies of several different individual “supporting actors,” cultural nuances, and other cool real medicine with what happens on a physiological level to Amanda after recovering to the exposure of the pathogen. What changes her body and brain chemistry go through to make not only who she is in the end but the beginnings of what. Can a person maintain part of who they were before such changes? When they are in a constant state of adaptation from something they have only a modicum of control over can one not have even an iota of what Amanda goes through?
Only upon reading Hybrid did I realize she was actually not a bigger part of the whole, so I would definitely recommend also reading Hybrid, the original story. Brian O’Grady is one of those authors whose style stands out. Such as “This is a Stephen King kind of read” “Lovecraftian.” I am not comparing him, but since reading this in November I have actually compared two other reads to him, as in, this book feels kind of like Amanda’s Story and Hybrid. Being these are his only two literary pieces, and I am also one who usually doesn’t remember an author’s name and go for a title first when accessing my Brian… I mean brain (OK inside joke and not one that involves this Brian…) this is kind of a big deal for me. I hope he continues to plug out these little gems because I love his style of writing. I like being talked to through the voices of his characters. I like how I was truly able to immerse myself into Amanda, whose narration is extremely dark at times I will warn some.
Oh how much more random can I be? Probably a heck of a lot more. But I am going to wrap this up. Amanda’s Story? A Grade-A read! If you like a good suspense, like being challenged, enjoy being fed and immersed in a tale which will have you look up at the clock and go, “Where the hell did the last four hours go!?” moments? Pick it up.
Brian O’Grady is April’s Story Plant Author of the Month, which means you can get the e-book versions of Amanda’s Story and Hybrid for a great price all month. Read more about it here.