The novel takes place ten years after a Zombie Apocalypse in 2017, In a World..., where surviving humans live side-by-side with hordes of ravenous and mindless Risen and the intelligent Quazi (the "z" is intentional). Any time a human dies and the body is at least 50% intact (especially the brain), the person comes back to life as a Risen with a hunger for living flesh. Eventually, some Risen may remember who they are and become Quazi. After the early years, the vast majority of humankind (6 billion) roams the lands as the Risen. Just over 100 million Quazi coexist with humans, sometimes forming their own nations and sometimes living among us. In Russia, Moscow remains the bastion of the living with fortifications in place along the Moscow Ring Road and armored trains providing transportation between cities. The Russian Quazi are centered around Saint Petersburg, their capital.
Both the Risen and the Quazi are much stronger and faster than humans, able to leap down from several stories high without sustaining much damage. They also have a high Healing Factor, although it's not very quick.
Denis Simonov is a Moscow cop and his precinct's only Mortal Affairs Inquirer. His job is to show up to scenes with potential fatalities and immobilize or, if necessary, kill any newly-Risen, while they're still sluggish and disoriented. After immobilization, any Risen is supposed to be handed over to the Quazi, who treat the Risen as their children and can exert some control over them. However, Denis has a special hatred for all undead over the loss of his wife and son during the apocalypse, so a lot of his visits end up with Risen being permanently killed "out of self-defense". Suspicious, his Da Chief partners him up with a Quazi cop named Mikhail Bedrenets, who has just arrived from Saint Petesburg on a special assignment from the Representative (the leader of Russia's Quazi). Denis is forced to work side-by-side with Mikhail and learns to overcome his prejudices. At the same time, he knows that Mikhail is hiding something. He is also surprised to learn that Mikhail has a living son named Nayd (short for "naydenysh" - "foundling"), whom he found shortly after becoming self-aware again during the apocalypse.
The reluctant partners investigate the case of Professor Victor Tomilin, a biologist ostensibly studying chickenpox. The Professor was killed in his apartment, after which his killer supposedly waited for him to Rise and attack him. Both Risen were then beheaded by Denis in "self-defense" at the beginning of the novel. Denis and Mikhail then discover that Tomilin's wife Victoria, also a biologist, is a Quazi, which is a strange pairing, since Quazi tend to be emotionless and don't feel love for anyone. Mikhail quickly figures out that Victoria sent the hired gun to kill her husband in order to, eventually, turn him into a Quazi in his 30s instead of a weak old man. Victoria manages to flee custody, forcing Denis and Mikhail to try to figure out her endgame. Along the way, there is Jurisdiction Friction between them and State Sec, who keep trying to take over the investigation.
The novel contains examples of the following tropes:
- Attractive Zombie: Some of the Quazi retain their good looks; Victoria is the most notable example.
- Badass Preacher: Protopresbyter Pyotr turns out to be the legendary Army Captain Pyotr Melenkov, who repelled the Risen attack on Moscow during the days of the apocalypse by positioning his tanks along the Ring Road. His fame nearly made him President, but he left the public eye in remorse over killing so many people, even if they were undead, and joined the Church. He volunteers to join Denis and Mikhail to enter the Temple that holds over a thousand hungry Risen. When asked by Denis whether Pyotr believes in God (considering the undead situation), Pyotr answers that it doesn't matter, all that matter is that God believe in him. He ends up making a Heroic Sacrifice to keep the undead horde from being unleashed on Moscow and is torn to pieces, leaving nothing to Rise.
- Contrived Coincidence: Mikhail comes to Moscow on special assignment from his superior and ends up coming to blows with Denis even before they're partnered up. Mikhail has adopted a human boy he named Nayd. By sheer chance, Denis turns out to be the boy's biological father, having thought that the boy was killed along with his mother during the Zombie Apocalypse a decade ago.
- Da Chief: Lieutenant Colonel Amina Dauletdinova is in charge of Denis's precinct. She's extremely strict, especially on him, and Denis attributes it to her being an Eastern woman and trying to prove herself against her non-Eastern male colleagues by being extra-tough. To be fair, though, she seems to be a reasonable enough boss, forced to deal with her higher-ups and the human-Quazi politics.
- Healing Factor: Both the Risen and the Quazi have good regenerative capabilities, although they're not as quick as some of the other examples of this trope and rely on food intake. Typically, an undead can regenerate damage to up to 50% of his its body (including missing limbs), although it can take a few years in extreme cases. Also, damaged skin is replaced by bluish-gray skin, which is why all Quazi have that skin color.
- Japan Takes Over the World: Averted. Japan was almost completely wiped out during the Zombie Apocalypse, leaving only a small Quazi village. It's implied Japanese respect for their elders and dead was to blame, making them hesitate before killing Risen. Unlike them, China manages to survive by wiping out all Risen on its territory, losing about a third of its population. Despite occasional flare-ups, the Chinese have grown pretty efficient at putting out the "fires" and are still responsible for manufacturing most of the world's consumer goods.
- Jurisdiction Friction: Denis and Mikhail spend half the novel butting heads with Captain Vladislav Markin of State Sec, who keeps trying to take over the investigation.
- Killing in Self-Defense: Denis typically justifies permanently killing Risen by claiming self-defense. His boss doesn't believe him.
- The Lost Lenore: Denis lost his wife Olga during the apocalypse and their infant son. He later discovers that Mikhail's son Nayd is his biological son, whom Mikhail found and adopted.
- Love Interest: Anastasia Deyeva, a forensic expert at Denis's precinct, starts hitting on him, and they eventually start dating. Anastasia is also quite aware that Mikhail is doing his best to ensure that they end up together to set up a happy home for his adopted son Nayd, as he believes that a human boy should be raised among his own kind. He also believes that Denis is the boy's biological father.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Just a throwaway gag of no plot relevance whatsoever, so no spoiler. Walentina, leader of the uprise in a retirement home, is the mother of Markin.
- Machete Mayhem: The perfect close-range weapon against the Risen.
- Not Using the "Z" Word: The author never once uses the word "zombie". It's almost always Risen or Resurrected, sometimes undead.
- Obi-Wan Moment: After stopping the Risen horde from being unleashed on Moscow, Protopresbyter Pyotr drops his weapons and allows himself to be torn apart by several dozen Risen. He had no problems blowing away Risen before completing his missions, but, as soon as that was done, he resigns himself to death. It ends up being permanent, as the Risen damage his body too much for him to Rise.
- Our Zombies Are Different: The Risen are your typical flesh-eating zombie, except a bite doesn't turn someone into a zombie, since pretty much everyone becomes one anyway after death. Except at the very beginning, the Risen are fast, strong, and tough to kill. They have a Healing Factor that can restore damage to most of their body, although it takes time and food. The Quazi are Risen, who have regained their sanity and memories. They retain the speed, strength, and endurance of the Risen, as well as their bluish-gray skin tone and frozen age. Their mental development is likewise stunted. They are unable to improve themselves and tend to stick to whatever they did when they were alive, such as their job, as well as clothing, music, and movie preferences. According to Mikhail, the Russian Quazi are directing their efforts towards space travel, hoping to colonize another planet and leave Earth to humans. Their high endurance and non-susceptibility to radiation make them natural astronauts. They can also survive in hostile environments much better than humans. Then again, Denis points out that going to space requires imagination and a drive, which most Quazi lack. It might take centuries to find enough willing Quazi to make this a reality.
- Psychic Powers: The Quazi are able to exert limited control over the Risen, provided the latter are few in number.
- Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: The only surefire way to kill a Risen or a Quazi. Oh, and and a simple Neck Snap (provided you can even do it to someone of their endurance) won't work. The neck will snap back in about a minute thanks to their Healing Factor. The best weapons against the undead are shotguns, pistols with flat-tip bullets with a lot of stopping power, and a good old-fashioned machete. Flamethrowers will eventually kill them, but they don't feel pain, so they'll just keep coming, and you'll have to deal with a flaming undead instead.
- Shotguns Are Just Better: The best handheld firearm against a Risen or a horde of Risen, since they increase the likelihood of crippling or even killing an undead before it gets within grabbing and biting range. When those aren't available, a pistol with blunt bullets (for maximum stopping power) will have to do.
- Synthetic Plague: Two such plagues have been developed: one to kill all adult humans and one to kill all Quazi. And this is just in Russia. It's implied that the same may be happening in other countries as well.
- Technically Living Zombie: Quazi have normal body temperature and, more or less, normal body processes, except aging. They can't reproduce, but they can have sex with both Quazi and humans, provided they were really into it during their life.
- Undead Child: Naturally, a sizable percentage of both the Risen and the Quazi are children. As expected, they are unable to grow up. Quazi children play and go to school, but they will always be doing that.
- Vegetarian Zombie: Quazi are all vegetarians. Moreover, they're vegan. They can only digest plant proteins. Anything that comes from animals is rejected, including milk and eggs. In fact, they typically don't even want meat. McDonald's has special Quazi-specific items on their menu such as quaziburgers (with eggplant taking the place of meat) with produce being thoroughly washed to clear out any residual taste of additives or fertilizer. In their own farms, Quazi grow only organic food. Some Quazi occasionally want milk, but they have to contend with soy milk instead.
- Wall Crawl: Some Risen are able to move this way, hopping from wall to wall.
- Will and Inheritance Tropes: A number of people specify in their wills that they wish to be cremated after death in order to avoid spending eternity as a Risen or even a Quazi.
- Your Cheating Heart: Denis's late wife Olga reveals she was seeing him at the same time as another guy. As she claims, she was choosing between them. When she got pregnant from the other guy and he refused to marry her, she told Denis that he was the father, resulting in a Shotgun Wedding. Of course, she ends up telling him this as they're fighting for their lives during the Zombie Apocalypse, which is not the time to deal with personal issues. It may be partly responsible for her death. Denis later learns the child was actually his and is, in fact, still alive thanks to Mikhail.
- Zombie Apocalypse: In the backstory, one took place in 2017, when the recently-deceased inexplicably started to rise again and attack the living, hungering for their flesh. Before order was restored, over 6 billion people lost their lives and became Risen. A small percentage of them eventually regained their sanity and became Quazi.