One could argue that with Symbiont, book two of Mira Grant’s Parasitology trilogy, things must, inevitably, get more interesting. That’s not a knock on its predecessor, Parasite. As enjoyable as Grant’s parasitic twist on the zombie template was, the “revelations” in the first book—that tapeworms meant to cure disease were actually sentient and able to evict their hosts—weren’t really that surprising. I suspect many lovers of apocalyptic fiction spent much of the book waiting for Grant to finish up with all the predictable stuff, so we could see what happens next.
And it was worth waiting for: Symbiont has plenty of fodder to keep Sally/Sal Mitchel and her boyfriend, Nathan Kim, occupied—and the reader guessing. Sal may have a better handle on who and what she is, but a robust number of opposing factions—Steven Banks and SymboGen Corp., Shanti Cale and her rogue scientific outpost, Sherman and his sleepwalkers, and the military, to name a few—provide plenty of obstacles for both Sal’s and the reader’s grasp of the big picture.
As the outbreak of tapeworm takeovers reaches the familiar “societal breakdown” phase, Grant nonetheless keeps the reader firmly planted in Sal’s perspective. There are plenty of bigger questions floating around, many of them a variant on the biggie: What does it truly mean to be human? But the more metaphysical aspects of this particular threat to humanity, while always present, seldom take center stage. Grant doesn’t seem that interested in the metaphorical resonance—she’s all about exploring the personal and scientific ramifications of this particular doomsday scenario.
As a result, like its predecessor, Symbiont feels lighter than the heavy events it portrays. For readers who like their end of days to come with a heaping helping of zombie-esque transformation, Grant’s series will remain both familiar and a bit fresh. For everyone else who has reached the second book of this trilogy—there’s certainly no reason to stop now.