Stage 3 Alpha by Ken Stark Suffers a Sophomore Slump

Stage 3 Alpha book cover

Book Blurb

The virus swept through humanity like wildfire.

Millions went blind in the first few hours, but blindness was just the beginning. It was only in Stage 2 that the real terror emerged. As the virus ate into the brain, it destroyed everything human, leaving in its wake a creature that knew only one thing; the need to feed.

And the world was torn apart.

In San Francisco, those few who remain amid the swarms measure their survival from one terrified heartbeat to the next. But for Sarah, there is reason to keep going. A pretty little girl with big green eyes and a tangled mop of curly red hair is counting on her, and she’s not about to let anything in Heaven or Hell stand in her way. But those wild, ravenous things aren’t the only monsters in this new world of the damned, and even as she fights her way home across a besieged city, she knows it’s only going to get worse.

The virus isn’t done yet. Stage 3 is here, and it might just be the beginning of the end.

Stage 3 Alpha by Ken Stark

Ken Stark’s Stage 3 Alpha novel is the second book of the author’s Stage 3 trilogy of books. Unfortunately it suffered from a “sophomore slump” compared to the first book.

**Some spoilers below **

This novel focuses on Aunt Sarah – the person Mace and Mack searched for throughout the first book of the trilogy. Readers follow her journey from the medical center where she worked as a nurse to fighting her way back to her apartment to find Mack.

Sarah starts off with a group of co-workers but that group quickly devolves to Sarah running solo for a large portion of the novel. New characters, especially Sarah’s love interest Lucy, make the briefest appearances in the beginning of the book, but they’re quickly separated or killed off at a rate and ruthlessness like Game of Thrones characters.

After this point, the book suffers a slump. When Sarah runs solo in complete survival mode, the zombie hoard scenes happened so often and droned on for so long that the words turned into an alphabet soup. I found myself breezing through these pages, merely skimming through the content and no longer immersed in the story. 

Another topic of the book that made me scratch my head in disbelief pertained to Clancy, her neighbor’s large dog that Sarah rescues. Almost immediately Sarah and Clancy become an invincible dynamic duo, fighting off all zombies with no fear of injury. At one point I began to wonder if Clancy was a dog or a direwolf from Game of Thrones (who were much more vulnerable). 

Ask any writer that wrote a Superman story about how difficult it is to get readers emotionally attached to a character that has no vulnerabilities. It doesn’t work. The same goes for Sarah and Clancy throughout the book. 

Sarah Finds Sanctuary, Or So She Thinks

My favorite part of the book happens when Sarah finds sanctuary with a group of criminals posing as army soldiers. Sarah nearly dies before she’s rescued and brought into the reclaimed building used as a base and safe zone. 

New characters (and an old one – Dr. Lambert whom she worked with at the medical center) get introduced and Ken Stark does a fantastic job fleshing these new shady characters out. Only then did I feel a sense of dread that Sarah’s life is at risk. 

Sarah’s sense of morality and her courage help her decide to help the couple dozen ‘civilians’ housed in the building guarded by the ‘soldiers’. The fake soldiers are violent, despicable men. This portion of the story makes allusions to drug use, rape, violence and more, so reader beware.

The most despicable scene of the book occurs during an escape from the secure building. Now swarmed by hoards of zombies, the ‘soldiers’ and a handful of ‘civilians’ flee on a small golf-cart type of vehicle. They’re being chased by a zombie hoard and the gap between the two is closing fast. 

To survive and distract the hoard, one of the ‘soldiers’ obeys an order and grabs a crying infant from her mother and throws the baby to the hoard. I didn’t expect the book to have that type of “shock value” and I was disappointed. However, that’s where I draw the line but your line may be different. I didn’t like that happening at all.

Sarah Finds Mack and Mace

Sarah eventually finds Mack and Mace, who are now an elite special forces type of duo. They also found Clancy the dog soon after Sarah entered the sanctuary building. The author describes Mace like he’s a huge golem-sized Jason Bourne type person, which seemed quite odd to how I imagined him from the first book. 

All in all I found this book disappointing, unfortunately. I don’t know if I’ll get around to reading the next book, Stage 3 Bravo, now.

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