Review: “Neverending Nightmares” (Computer Game)

Well, although I’m still planning to review “Hard Reset Redux” in the future, I haven’t completed it yet. And, since I’m also still reading the next novel I plan to review (“An Argumentation Of Historians” by Jodi Taylor) and wasn’t in the mood for finding a “Doom II” level to look at, I decided to get a really intriguing-looking short indie horror game from 2014 called “Neverending Nightmares” that was on special offer on GOG when I prepared this review.

It actually took me a while to decide whether or not to buy this game and, since I looked at a few reviews and parts of “let’s play” videos whilst making my mind up, I went into it partially knowing what to expect. Although the game is still scary if you do this, I’d strongly advise avoiding as many spoilers as possible for the scariest experience with this game. But, although I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, expect a few mild SPOILERS.

However, I should probably point out that this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME/ DISTURBING IMAGES. But I’ll avoid the creepiest or most gruesome ones in the game.

So, let’s take a look at “Neverending Nightmares”:

“Neverending Nightmares” is a 2D horror game, with mild survival horror/ stealth/ puzzle elements. It is set in the late 19th/early 20th century and it follows a man called Thomas who finds himself trapped in a series of increasingly disturbing nightmares. Whilst it isn’t a perfect game, it is fairly inventive and also works fairly well as a horror game despite some gameplay and design limitations.

In terms of this game’s horror elements, there’s a fairly good mixture of gory horror, psychological horror, gothic horror, monster horror, taboo-based horror, tragic horror, body horror, suspense and jump scares. Whilst this game will certainly make you jump a few times, this thankfully isn’t the main type of horror here. Unlike a typical modern jump scare game, the game also includes lots of slow-burn Victorian-style gothic psychological horror that is reminiscent of games like “The Last Door” and “American McGee’s Alice”. In other words, it is often more likely to make you feel nervous, tense, unsettled or slightly disturbed than outright terrified.

Seriously, it’s so good to see more subtle types of horror included too, like these creepy paintings in the background.

This is also one of those wonderfully creepy games where reality itself cannot be trusted. In classic horror game fashion, the world that Thomas finds himself in is slightly wrong and it gradually becomes more and more wrong. If you’ve ever actually had a nightmare-within-a-nightmare (and I once had five layered dreams, gradually turning more nightmarish with every false awakening), then the game captures this experience fairly well – albeit in a rather stylised and gothic way. Seriously, it is so cool to see a game based around this premise.

Although knowing that you’ll wake up after anything too horrific drains some of the tension, the fact that you sometimes wake up somewhere else and/or are immediately plunged into another nightmare helps to add a wonderfully bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere.

Likewise, although this game certainly isn’t for the squeamish, some of the game’s gory horror is handled in a surprisingly creative and intelligent way. Leaving aside the areas where blood spatter has been lazily added to the walls to add extra “horror”, many of the game’s most effectively shocking gruesome moments are well-designed enough that they would still be disturbing even without all of the blood and guts. In other words, like with great horror games such as “Silent Hill 3“, these moments are disturbing thanks to things like visual storytelling, the uncanny, symbolism etc..

For example, this is one of the game’s least gruesome “shock” moments, and it’s still creepy thanks to the situation, the psychological/religious symbolism etc..

The game’s suspense elements are reasonably good. A fair amount of the game involves wandering through empty rooms and occasionally hiding from/sneaking past monsters. Although this will probably make you sweat and it is probably one of the creepiest elements of the game, it unfortunately isn’t anywhere near as nerve-wrackingly heart-poundingly terrifying as something like “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” due to both the game’s level design and location design.

Whilst this game does have non-linear segments where you can actually explore a bit (like in a classic survival horror game), a fair amount of this game has fallen prey to the modern trend of funnelling the player along a single linear path. Yes, the game’s story branches depending on various things but you still sometimes get the feeling that you’re playing an interactive horror movie rather than actually exploring a creepy location. Another thing that discourages exploration is the fact that there are relatively few items (often highlighted via colour) that the player can examine/interact with, which makes many of the interesting-looking locations feel a bit hollow and also makes the game’s story and characters feel a bit limited/minimalist too.

Occasionally, you can actually examine non-highlighted items (like this portrait), but it doesn’t happen that often. And there’s no commentary/descriptions when you examine stuff, which slightly reduces the level of characterisation and immersion.

In terms of the actual gameplay, it is mechanically simple – which is both a good and a bad thing. In essence, you can walk around, interact/look at a few things and run short distances. Likewise, there is one simple inventory puzzle, one segment (in the story branch I played) involving searching for a bottle of milk and some fairly simple stealth segments that usually involve finding ways to get past creepy monsters (either by finding hiding places or by learning their behaviour patterns).

Although it is really refreshing not to see any of the convoluted inventory puzzles or ultra-difficult stealth segments that can make an enjoyable survival horror game grind to a screeching halt, this simplified gameplay reduces the player’s immersion slightly and – again – makes everything feel a bit more like an interactive horror movie than a traditional game. Still, if you want a more streamlined and forgiving survival horror-inspired game, then this might work well. Just don’t expect too much of a challenge though (eg: I got stuck for ten minutes on one stealth puzzle and also had to check a walkthrough for two mildly confusing/counter-intuitive parts of the game, but that was it).

Still, one cool thing is that – like any real computer game should – this game allows you to save anywhere πŸ™‚ Yes, this takes the watered-down modern form of having just one quick-save slot (accessed via the “Save & Exit” feature in the game’s menu) and it will only save the room you are in (so, if you save in the middle of a long corridor, you’ll have to restart the corridor), but it is still cool to see in this age of console-centric checkpoint saving. Likewise, once you’ve completed a “chapter” of the game, you can also go back and select/replay it too πŸ™‚

In terms of the visual design, this game is really brilliant πŸ™‚ As an artist/cartoonist myself, this game’s art style and the detailed hand-drawn backgrounds were an absolute joy to look at πŸ™‚ Not only do the backgrounds look like the etchings from an old Victorian “Penny Dreadful“, but the more innocent and cartoonish character design (reminiscent of something like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” comics) also contrasts really eerily with these detailed backgrounds too πŸ™‚ Another cool thing is that, because most of this game is in monochrome, anything in colour stands out a lot more – which is used to both highlight stuff that you can interact with and to make the copious amounts of blood etc.. stand out a bit more.

Seriously, the art style really helps to give this game a unique atmosphere.

My only criticism of the game’s art is that fact that a lot of visual details, backgrounds etc… are re-used quite often. But, although this can make the game feel a little monotonous/padded out at times, I can easily imagine that everything in the game probably took longer to draw than it looks and – given that this is a low-budget game made by a small team of indie developers – I can’t really criticise the re-used artwork too much.

In terms of sound design, this game is excellent πŸ™‚ One of the most important things that makes a horror game scary is the sound design – and this game excels here, with creepy whispering, disturbing noises, Thomas’ heavy breathing, creaking footsteps, thunderclaps, jump scare noises etc… that really help to add a lot to this game’s chillingly suspenseful and gothic atmosphere. As for the voice-acting, there isn’t that much of it and – for a low-budget indie game – it is reasonably good (or at least not glaringly bad).

As for length, this is a short game – which took me a total of about 2-3 hours to complete (and, even then, some mid-late segments of the game felt a little padded). However, the game contains several branching paths that affect the locations/story and will not only show you which ones you followed, but will actually allow you to select chapters you’ve completed in order to find new paths more easily. So, it has a bit of replay value. And, given that I bought this game when it was on special offer and when I was in the mood for a short game, I didn’t have too many problems with the length. Still, don’t expect a giant game.

And, yes, this is where my playthrough of the game ended up going…

All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect game, it is still a fairly interesting one that is possibly worth taking a look at when it is on special offer. If you want a slightly more creative short modern horror game that relies on more than just jump scares, if you don’t mind slightly simplified gameplay/level design, if you like the game’s art style and if you can forgive some of the low-budget limitations, then you’ll have a wonderfully creepy couple of hours with this game.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Review: “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet” By Becky Chambers (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for a sci-fi novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a rather interesting second-hand book I found online a week or two before preparing this review. I am, of course, talking about Becky Chambers’ 2014 novel “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet”. I can’t remember how I first chose this book (probably a mixture of the site’s recommendation algorithms and the fact that the author shared a name with a “Resident Evil” character), but I’m genuinely surprised that I didn’t find, notice or read this book earlier than I did.

So, let’s take a look at “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Hodder & Stoughton paperback edition of “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet” that I read.

The novel begins with a mysterious woman in a stasis pod travelling through space. The pod is cheap and occasionally malfunctions. When it does, she briefly wakes up and thinks about the officials she had to bribe in order to get the forged identity documents for her journey. Then she falls asleep again.

On the wormhole-building tunnelling ship Wayfarer, Captain Ashby is arguing with his algae technician, Artis Corbin, about the fact that he has hired an inexperienced new clerk for the ship. Following another argument about the ship’s pilot, Ashby order Corbin to give the arriving clerk – Rosemary – a tour of the ship. Reluctantly, Corbin agrees and, after meeting the rest of the crew, Rosemary begins to settle in to life on board the ship.

Some time later, Ashby gets a message from the Galactic Commons. One of the warring factions of a species called the Toremi have recently joined the Commons and they need someone to create a wormhole between Commons space and the faction’s capital planet, Hedra Ka. The job will pay 36 million credits, but the journey will take an entire standard year to complete…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is wow πŸ™‚ The best way to describe this novel is that it’s kind of like a mixture between Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novels, S. K. Dunstall’s “Linesman“, Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic, an Alice Hoffman novel, some of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and the computer game “Dreamfall Chapters“. In other words, it is the kind of unique, powerful, “feel good”, innovative and profound story that will linger in your imagination long after you have finished reading it.

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s sci-fi elements. These are brilliant, but I should point out that this not a novel for traditional sci-fi purists. Although this novel contains all of the technical background details (eg: A.I, spaceships etc..) you’d expect from a sci-fi novel, it sets itself apart from most traditional sci-fi novels by focusing more on things like characters, cultures and world-building than technology. And, wow, does it do this well πŸ™‚ Put it this way, this is one of those novels that makes ordinary, everyday life aboard a small civilian spaceship absolutely fascinating to read about.

One of the most innovative, and brilliantly subversive, things about this novel is how it’s a sci-fi novel that is more about the value of “the humanities” (culture, languages, art, friendship etc..) than about the “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and maths) stuff that is usually valued more in both the sci-fi genre and everyday life. This rebellious change in emphasis gives the story’s futuristic world a level of richness, depth and refreshing uniqueness that you don’t see in sci-fi that often.

Seriously, this novel contains some of the best worldbuilding and most well-written characters I’ve seen in a while πŸ™‚ This novel just feels “realistic” in a way that really caught me by surprise. Although the novel does have a very well-written backstory, some really interesting planets (which I really enjoyed visiting) and some large-scale galactic politics, the worldbuilding works so well because it is done in a really detailed and small-scale way. This is a story about a group of people from different planets, cultures and/or species living together on the same ship and this allows for lots of brilliant world-building moments. If you want to learn how to do worldbuilding well, read this book.

And this brings me on to the characters, who are also extremely well-written. Not only do they all have character arcs and distinctive backstories, but they all feel real too. Seriously, this novel has a level of empathy and emotional realism which players of Ragnar TΓΈrnquist’s “The Longest Journey” trilogy and readers of Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” Comics, some of Alice Hoffman’s novels etc… will probably be familiar with. And, if you haven’t read or played any of those things, then I’ll sum it up by saying that this is a story that has a real warmth and humanity to it.

I could devote an entire article to each individual character, but they’re characters that I really enjoyed hanging out with (especially a mechanic called Kizzy, who really deserves her own spin-off book). Given that this is much more of a character-based novel than a plot-based novel, this excellent characterisation is what makes this novel so compelling to read. Not only that, the relationships, friendships and/or arguments between the crew members are also a major source of drama and profound emotional moments. I’m really not doing all of this justice here, so I’ll give one example.

For about two-thirds of the novel, I mistakenly thought that Corbin was a rare example of a badly-written character. After all, he barely appeared during quite a few moments of the story and, when he did, he was either a figure of ridicule and/or someone for the other crew members to argue with, ignore, sneer at or lecture at. He almost seemed more like a cheap political caricature, especially given the lack of author empathy he gets in the early-middle parts of the story. Then, just when you’re about to write him off as the one badly-written character, the novel hits you with a story event out of nowhere and, suddenly, he becomes a much more complex, interesting, tragic and understandable character that it’s impossible not to empathise with. And all of the earlier stuff makes a lot more sense too. It’s difficult to describe how powerful, clever and well-timed this moment is – and you should really read it for yourself – but, wow πŸ™‚

This, of course, brings me on to the novel’s themes. In short, this is a novel about friendship and culture. In particular, it is not only about how the characters are shaped by their cultures but also how different cultures interact with, and adapt, to each other (and, yes, the novel can get a bit preachy at times. But, overall, the topic is handled in a fairly nuanced way). Likewise, I mentioned earlier that this is an innovative sci-fi novel that values “humanities” skills more than STEM stuff and also has a major impact on how parts of the story play out.

For example, whilst most traditional sci-fi novels would resolve an encounter with space pirates via a dramatic laser battle, some cool-looking evasive manoeuvres or a dazzling piece of technological trickery, this novel resolves this situation in a much more understated, suspenseful, realistic and humanities-based way. Because one character can speak a second language, is able to empathise with the pirates’ situation and remembers a bit of history, she is able to convince the pirates to steal much less than they’d planned. Seriously, it is so refreshing (and surprising) to see a space-based sci-fi story that doesn’t primarily focus on science.

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant. The story’s third-person narration is informal enough to have a sense of personality, whilst also being descriptive enough to do the story’s settings justice too. Likewise, the story’s worldbuilding is also part of the narration too (eg: the word “tenday” is used instead of “week”, various gender-neutral pronouns etc…). Seriously, I cannot praise the writing in this novel enough. In addition to the characters, the atmospheric descriptions and the narrative voice are two things that make a story where not that much actually happens a lot more compelling to read than you might expect.

In terms of length and pacing, they are both a perfect fit for the story. Although this novel is 402 pages long and fairly moderately-paced (with a few well-placed faster moments and/or scenes of drama) most of the time, this isn’t actually a bad thing.

In short, thanks to the sheer quality of the writing, characters, worldbuilding, profound emotional moments, locations etc… this is the kind of novel that you’ll probably want to savour πŸ™‚ It is the kind of novel where more pages and a slightly slower pace just means that you get to spend more time hanging out in cool places with interesting characters πŸ™‚

All in all, this review really hasn’t done the experience of reading this novel justice. It is something that you have to experience for yourself. Yes, it probably won’t appeal to traditional sci-fi purists or those who want a fast-paced thriller but, if you give this novel a chance, then you’ll be rewarded with an amazingly atmospheric, beautifully profound, wonderfully compelling and just fascinating story πŸ™‚ Likewise, even if you aren’t a fan of sci-fi and just want a “feel good” novel to relax with, then this one is well worth reading.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five.

Review: “England Expects” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from reading spin-off novels and take a look at a detective novel that I’d planned to read about two or three years ago. I am, of course, talking about Sara Sheridan’s 2014 novel “England Expects”. This was part of a boxset of the first three of Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” novels that I was given by a family member for Christmas in 2016.

At the time, I read the first two books (but only got round to reviewing the first one) and also ended up getting a copy of the fourth one . A couple of months ago, I ended up reading the fifth novel because I couldn’t find my copies of the third and fourth books at the time. Needless to say, they turned up shortly afterwards and I’ve been meaning to read them ever since.

Although “England Expects” is the third novel in a series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone novel. Yes, you’ll get slightly more out of it if you already know the characters from the first two books, but it tells a fairly self-contained detective story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “England Expects”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Constable (UK) paperback edition of “England Expects” that I read.

The novel begins in Brighton in 1953. It is a bright summer day and Express reporter Joey Gillingham has just arrived in the city to investigate a story. But, since he has a bit of time to spare, he decides to stop off at a local barbershop for a shave and a haircut. Whilst the barber goes into the backroom to get some tea for Joey, a mysterious man strides into the shop and slashes Joey’s throat.

Needless to say, ex-military intelligence officer turned debt collector and unofficial detective Mirabelle Bevan is intrigued when she hears about the murder. Her friend and colleague, Vesta, has other things on her mind though. Her partner Charlie has proposed to her and she isn’t sure whether to accept or not, because she worries that it might affect her job with Mirabelle. So, the case provides a welcome distraction for her too.

Not only that, the lead detective on the investigation (McGregor) is shocked to hear that one of his detectives has moved Joey’s body before he had a chance to examine it and that Joey’s notebook is missing. And, after someone dies in suspicious circumstances at the local masonic lodge, it soon becomes clear to all concerned that the case is more complex than it first seemed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a fairly compelling detective thriller novel, which is a little bit like a blend of classic Agatha Christie, modern historical fiction and a hardboiled detective novel. Even though it has a couple of small flaws, the novel has a fairly good historical atmosphere and a plot that becomes more thrilling as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re fairly good. There is the usual thing about seemingly separate crimes turning out to be part of the same case, and the investigation includes a really good mixture of Agatha Christie-style questioning scenes, some suspenseful sneaking around, a couple of red herrings, a few Sherlock Holmes-like deductions and a few elements that wouldn’t be out of place in an old hardboiled crime novel. These elements work really well and it’s really cool to see an Agatha Christie-style mystery, but with a slightly grittier and more hardboiled edge to it πŸ™‚

The novel’s thriller elements, which mostly consist of suspenseful spy-like snooping and a couple of more dramatic moments, appear more prominently in the later parts of the story and help to keep things fairly gripping. Likewise, one of the major themes of this novel is secret societies, which helps to add a bit of extra suspense and drama too – even if this topic is handled in a rather cheesy and/or stylised way during some parts of the story.

In terms of the novel’s historical elements, the novel has a really impressive historical atmosphere and, like in many of Sheridan’s other novels, is also critical of the problems and narrow-minded attitudes lurking behind the twee respectability of 1950s Britain. Although this element of the story is mostly handled well, a couple of moments would probably have worked better if they had been handled in a more subtle way.

The novel also includes some rather amusing satire – such as in the opening scene involving the Express reporter (who, for example, wants a conservative military haircut). Not to mention that, if you’ve ever visited the modern version of Brighton, it’s fascinating to see what the city would have looked like during the 1950s (with, for example, the Royal Pavillion being in a state of disrepair etc..) too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. In addition to seeing a few familiar characters from other novels in the series, the characters all seem like fairly realistic (if mildly stylised) people with realistic motivations, imperfections and personalities. The characters really help to add a lot of drama and historical atmosphere to the story and are probably one of the best parts of the novel.

As for the writing, it’s really good too. This novel’s third-person narration is formal and descriptive enough to add some historical atmosphere to the story, whilst also being “matter of fact” enough to be fairly readable and relaxing too.

Likewise, the novel’s length and pacing are really good. At an efficient 271 pages in length, the novel never feels bloated. Likewise, although some of the earlier parts of the story are closer to a slower-paced traditional detective story, the story gradually becomes more thrilling and fast-paced as it progresses in a way reminiscent of classic vintage thriller novels like Agatha Christie’s “N or M?” and classic hardboiled detective fiction.

All in all, this is a compelling historical detective thriller. It’s an atmospheric and intriguing blend of traditional Agatha Christie-style fiction and more hardboiled fiction that combines it’s detective and thriller elements really well. Yes, there are some small flaws, but it is still a good novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Falling Apart” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, after I read Jane Lovering’s “Vampire State Of Mind” about three months ago (after a family member thought that I’d like the series and gave me both novels), I’ve been meaning to read the sequel. But, of course, I got distracted by other books. So, three months later, I decided to finally take a look at “Falling Apart” (2014).

Although this novel can possibly be read as a stand-alone book (since it contains some recaps), the story will have much more of an impact if you’ve already got to know the characters before reading it.

So, let’s take a look at “Falling Apart”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Falling Apart” that I read.

Jess Grant works for York Council as a liason officer between the human population and the city’s “otherworlders” (eg: vampires, werewolves etc..). After the events of the previous book, she is in a relationship with one of the leading local vampires called Sil. However, Jess is worried. Not only hasn’t she heard from Sil for several days, but even his nominal second-in-command, Zan, doesn’t know where he has gone…

Meanwhile, Sil is in London. He is visiting some kind of official records office when someone walks into the building and shoots him. He falls unconscious whilst his body heals and, when he wakes up, he is trapped in some kind of small underground tomb.

Back in York, things are going from bad to worse for Jess. Not only is there still no word from Sil, but her father has been taken to hospital and the tabloid press have started hounding her over abandoning a case to visit him. On the streets, right-wing hooligans are also harassing the city’s zombie population.

But, even worse than this, an online newsfeed arrives at Jess’ office showing Sil going on a blood-spattered feeding frenzy through the streets of London. Under the terms of the treaty between humanity and the otherworlders, Sil must be hunted down and killed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a bit more of a streamlined and compelling thriller than “Vampire State Of Mind” was. The romance is more passionate, the story is more suspenseful and there is also more backstory too πŸ™‚ In other words, this novel is a really good sequel πŸ™‚

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. Although there are a few fight scenes, this is much more of a suspense thriller/detective thriller novel with some hints of the spy genre too. Not only is Sil in constant danger throughout the novel, but Jess has to both keep him hidden and find a way to clear his name too. So, there’s a lot of sneaking around, secret research and other suspenseful stuff like this πŸ™‚

The novel also has an interesting sub-plot about Jess helping out the city’s zombies, who are targeted by right-wing extremists and who work dangerous jobs for little to no pay. This sub-plot links in well with the main plot and helps to add a bit of extra drama to the story. The novel’s depiction of zombies is fairly interesting too since, amongst other things, they have to keep their disintegrating bodies together with the use of copious amounts of glue.

Like in “Vampire State Of Mind”, this novel also contains a fair amount of humour too. Although this is slightly more understated than in the previous novel, there is a fair amount of irreverent humour, sarcastic dialogue, amusing descriptions etc… If you like the humour in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novels, then you’ll probably enjoy the humour here πŸ™‚

The novel’s romance elements are really brilliant too. Since Sil and Jess are already in a relationship at the start of the novel, their romance feels a bit more intense and suspenseful. This is also emphasised by things like Jess’ uncertainties about Sil, the danger that both characters are in, the scenes where the two characters miss each other and – since Sil is wanted criminal- the passionate scenes of forbidden love too. Seriously, I haven’t seen vampire romance as good as this since I read Jocyelnn Drake’s “Dark Days” series.

In terms of the characters, they are really well-written. This is one of those novels that works really well because of the characters. In addition to learning a bit more about Jess’ past, Zan gets a lot more characterisation in this novel – since Jess is uncertain whether or not she can trust him (given that he is a “lawful good” character who seems eager to report Sil). Likewise, all of the main characters get a fair amount of character development too. Seriously, the characters in this novel are really good.

In terms of the writing, it is fairly good. Although this novel does do the annoying thing of switching between first and third-person narration at times, the narrative voice is the readable, informal, amusing and emotional narration that you’d expect πŸ™‚ As I mentioned in my review of “Vampire State Of Mind”, the narration in this series reminds me a bit of a slightly understated version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s awesome “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” series πŸ™‚

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good πŸ™‚ At an efficient 274 pages, the story never feels too long. Likewise, the story remains compelling and well-paced throughout. Plus, although the main storyline is resolved, there is also more than enough room for a really epic sequel (if it is ever written).

All in all, this is a fairly compelling and suspenseful vampire thriller novel and an excellent sequel to “Vampire State Of Mind” πŸ™‚ The plot feels more focused, the romance seems more intense and both the characters and humour are as good as ever.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Fall Of Night” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, after I finished reading Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead Of Night” about a month or two ago, I’d thought about reading the sequel. But, at the time, second-hand copies were a little on the expensive side of things. Still, a while later, the price came down and I ended up getting a copy of Maberry’s 2014 novel “Fall Of Night”.

However, I should probably point out that you need to read “Dead Of Night” before you read this book. It is a direct sequel to that novel and, despite a lot of recaps, the story picks up pretty much where “Dead Of Night” left off. So, this story will make more sense and have more of a dramatic impact if you’ve read “Dead Of Night” first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Fall Of Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS for both this novel and “Dead Of Night”.

This is the 2014 St. Martin’s Press (US) paperback edition of “Fall Of Night” that I read.

The novel begins in the town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania. Following the events of the previous book, the survivors of the zombie virus outbreak are holed up in the town’s school and the troops outside the school have agreed to let them live. However, the leader of the survivors – tough local cop Dez Fox – is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and her on-off boyfriend Billy Trout can’t get any more news reports out of the school because the military are jamming all communications.

In Washington DC, there is chaos. The US president’s hawkish national security advisor, Scott Blair, is furiously urging him to take extreme measures to contain the outbreak. Naturally, the president is hesitant about authorising such things. Some of his staff are also trying to make him think about how this crisis will affect him politically. Of course, when they hear that Billy Trout may have some of Dr. Volker’s research notes about the zombie virus, the situation becomes even more complicated.

Meanwhile, in a town near Stebbins called Bordentown, a resurrected serial killer called Homer Gibbon has just broken into the local Starbucks. Billy’s cameraman, Goat, is there and is trying to upload more information about the infection to the press when this happens. To Goat’s surprise, Homer spares his life on the condition that he follows him and gets his side of the story out to the media….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although the story is very slow to really get started and it is probably the bleakest horror novel I’ve read since I read James Herbert’s “Domain” back when I was a teenager, it is still a surprisingly good book. Yes, it would have been even better if it was shorter, but it’s one hell of a horror novel and a fairly decent thriller novel too. Just don’t judge it by the first hundred pages or so.

And, yes, this novel is even more of a horror novel than “Dead Of Night” was. In addition to the usual splatterpunk-style ultra-gruesome zombie horror that you would expect, this novel contains numerous other types of horror too. The most prominent of these is probably bleak horror. This is a grim, bleak novel about traumatised survivors trying to stay alive, people facing certain death, people making grim decisions and a slowly-unfolding zombie apocalypse that keeps getting worse. It’s a compelling story, but it isn’t exactly easy reading.

Even so, there are plenty of other types of horror too. In addition to post-apocalyptic horror, moral horror, psychological horror, character-based horror and scientific/medical horror, this is also one of those novels that will even occasionally make you feel sorry for a few of the zombies too! Seriously, this novel may not be outright scary, but it is a surprisingly disturbing (and depressing) horror novel.

The novel is also a fairly compelling thriller novel too. Yes, the novel begins fairly slowly with lots of grim scenes showing the psychological and political aftermath of the events of the first novel. But, as the story progresses, it becomes more suspenseful, more fast-paced and more dramatic. In addition to some dramatic zombie battles and a sub-plot about a team of mercenaries sent into the town (and, yes, there are a couple of references to Maberry’s “Patient Zero” too), the novel does something really clever with it’s more spectacular set pieces.

During a couple of the novel’s really dramatic moments (which I won’t spoil), the novel will add a lot of extra impact to these scenes by using multiple chapters that show how the same events are experienced by different characters. Although this might sound repetitive, it actually works really well and it helps to hammer home the magnitude of these scenes.

In terms of the characters, this novel is really good. Good horror relies on good characterisation and this novel excels at this. Even background characters who only appear for a single chapter will get a fair amount of characterisation. Likewise, the novel’s main characters have all been affected by the events of the previous novel and this allows for a lot of character-based drama, psychological drama, moral ambiguity etc.. too.

The novel also takes a more realistic approach to characterisation than Hollywood movies do, which helps to add some extra horror to many scenes. For example, when one of the more traumatised survivors freaks out about everything that is happening, Dez does the classic Hollywood thing of trying to slap some sense into him. Needless to say, this just makes things worse and also realistically makes Dez feel fairly guilty afterwards too.

The novel’s characterisation also helps to add a little bit of happiness, warmth and dark comedy to this grim tale too. Most of these parts of the story involve background characters who die in ironic, but merciful, ways. The most heartwarming examples are probably the scene involving some medieval re-enactors at a local renaissance fair and the scene involving a pyromaniac who is working his dream job as a military explosives expert.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly “matter of fact” style that both helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace, whilst also emphasising the stark bleakness of the story too. This is also complemented by lots of harsh dialogue that, far from making the story seem laughably immature, actually helps to add to the story’s bleak sense of hopelessness, trauma and grimness.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel falls down a bit. At 402 pages, this novel felt about fifty to a hundred pages longer than it should be. Likewise, the sheer number of recaps during the earlier parts of the story and the slow-paced focus on the aftermath of the first novel mean that this novel really doesn’t get off to the kind of gripping start that it should do. Even so, the novel’s pacing becomes a lot faster and more suspenseful as the story progresses and I guess that the slow beginning is meant to make these parts of the book seem faster-paced by contrast.

All in all, whilst I preferred “Dead Of Night” to “Fall Of Night”, this novel is a fairly impressive horror novel. Yes, the story is slow to start and it is probably one of the most bleak horror novels I’ve ever read (seriously, it’s second only to James Herbert’s “Domain”), but it is still a very compelling, suspenseful and gripping horror novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Personal” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to read another Lee Child novel so soon after reading “The Midnight Line” two or three weeks ago, the weather was still fairly hot and – as such- I needed something relaxing, gripping and just generally fun to read.

So, I thought that I’d check out Lee Child’s 2014 novel “Personal” today. This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read ever since a relative found an American hardback edition of it in a charity shop in Salisbury a couple of years ago and thought that I might be interested in it.

So, let’s take a look at “Personal”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Delacorte Press (US) hardback edition of “Personal” that I read.

The novel begins with wandering ex-military policeman Jack Reacher sitting on a bus that is travelling to Seattle. Since the bus travels near a military base, a soldier ends up leaving a copy of Army Times behind. Out of professional curiosity, Reacher decides to take a look at it… and finds his own name in the personal ads segment. The US military wants him to call them.

After getting off the bus in Seattle, Reacher calls the military and he is quickly flown to a top secret part of Fort Bragg. A sniper has threatened the French President and the international intelligence community has narrowed the suspects down to four possible people. One of whom is a man that Reacher arrested for murder sixteen years earlier. Needless to say, Reacher agrees to help out with the case….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a thriller novel. It contains an absolutely brilliant mixture of spy drama, crime drama, suspense, action and detective work. Although the earlier parts of the story tend to focus more on suspense and detective work, the story becomes even more dramatic and gripping as it progresses.

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between these different sub-genres of thriller fiction fairly right, meaning that the story remains fairly consistently gripping throughout since Lee Child can just switch from sub-genre to sub-genre in order to add variety without slowing the pacing down too much.

In addition to this, the novel is also a little bit like a “greatest hits” compilation of what I can remember of Child’s older novels too. There’s a sniper-based storyline (like in “One Shot”), there’s a segment set in Britain (like in “The Hard Way”) and there’s a gang/crime theme too (like in “Persuader”).

Although most of the novel’s detective elements happen during the earlier parts of the story, there are several cool moments throughout the story where Reacher makes Sherlock Holmes-style deductions about various things. Plus, not only is Reacher referred to as “Sherlock Homeless” a couple of times (which always made me think of the “Viz” cartoon of the same name) but there’s even a vague reference to the BBC’s “Sherlock” TV show, when Reacher “calls the police” in London by firing a gun several times (like in “A Scandal In Belgravia).

The novel’s spy thriller elements are also pretty interesting and they lend the story a murky, secretive and ambiguous atmosphere which helps to increase the feelings of suspense – especially when contrasted with the equally murky world of organised crime.

Even so, there are a few inconsistencies with the novel’s spy elements. For example, when Reacher arrives in London, it is made very clear that he’s there unofficially (and that it would cause an international incident if MI5 found out about it). Yet, when he later gets spotted by a British agent that he met earlier in the story, they just team up and MI5 is totally cool with it (even offering help and support to Reacher at various points in the story).

This novel is also a fairly decent action-thriller novel, with very little of the pacifism that can be found in Child’s “The Midnight Line”. Although this does give parts of the novel a slightly vigilante-like tone, it also allows for a fair number of dramatic, fast-paced and impactful fight scenes – which are often also paired with suspenseful elements (eg: time limits, worries about stray bullets, Reacher meeting a well-matched adversary etc..) to help keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

In terms of the characters – whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here. Not only does Reacher get a fairly decent amount of characterisation, but several members of the supporting cast do too.

On the other hand, the novel’s villains (eg: the evil sniper, the gangsters from Romford etc...) are a little bit on the cartoonish side of things – although this is done in a way that makes them feel extra menacing, so it isn’t an entirely bad thing.

In terms of the writing, this novel is as good and fast-paced as ever. Plus, unlike some of Lee Child’s novels, this one is narrated by Reacher himself. This lends the story an even greater degree of focus, suspense and character. It also helps to add a sense of vulnerability to the story, since we only see and know what Reacher does.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The hardback edition I read was a relatively efficient 353 pages long, although this may be due to the slightly larger page size. Even so, the length is fairly comparable to other Lee Child novels, with the suspense and pacing making sure that the novel never feels too long. Likewise, as you would expect from a Lee Child novel, the pacing is reasonably fast too. However, this novel starts out in a slightly slower and more suspenseful way before becoming more fast-paced later in the story.

All in all, this is a really good thriller novel. It’s an intriguing blend of the spy thriller, crime thriller, action-thriller and detective genres πŸ™‚ Whilst it doesn’t do anything especially new or innovative, it’s still a brilliantly gripping novel that was a lot of fun to read.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

Review: “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” By Mark Morris (Novel)

Since the weather was still pretty hot, I felt like reading a nice relaxing zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take the chance to read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a few months, namely Mark Morris’ 2014 novel “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”.

I first saw this book online a few months ago and was impressed by the dramatic title and gloriously melodramatic cover art. But, since it was slightly expensive at the time, I ended up reading Alison Littlewood’s “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” instead. However, a couple of weeks before writing this review, second-hand copies of the book were a little bit cheaper online, so I decided to get a copy.

Although this book seems to be a spin-off from Stephen Jones’ “Zombie Apocalypse!” series, it seems to be a fairly self-contained novel. Yes, some elements of the book will probably make more sense if you’ve read the main series (which I haven’t, since they seem to be epistolary novels. And, although I read “Dracula”, “Carrie” and “World War Z” during the ’00s, I’ve kind of gone off of this narrative style). But, this is pretty much a self-contained stand-alone novel with conventional third-person narration πŸ™‚

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Robinson (UK) paperback edition of “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” that I read.

The novel begins in London, in a dystopian version of Britain (well, more dystopian than usual). A night-shift nurse called Cat Harris is on her way to Lewisham Hospital when a frenzied person covered in blood lurches out in front of the car. Luckily, Cat is able to get away but she feels slightly shaken by the incident and somewhat guilty about not helping the person who lunged at her car. Still, there is work to be done at the hospital’s A&E department…

Meanwhile, a seventeen-year old gang member called Carlton is preparing for an attack on a rival gang. Although Carlton’s gang have the element of surprise on their side, Carlton ends up getting stabbed in the hip by a youth from the rival gang. So, naturally, he ends up being taken to A&E at Lewisham Hospital….

Whilst all of this is going on, there’s a hen party in a nearby nightclub. Although the evening is going well, a bearded man in a white robe enters the nightclub and begins to rant about beltane, fleas and other arcane things – before suddenly biting the bride-to-be. Whilst the other people at the club beat the bearded man to a pulp, the hen party make their way to Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is basically an updated modern version of classic 1980s splatterpunk fiction πŸ™‚ Everything from the cynical dystopian satire to the gritty inner London setting to the gallons of gore is wonderfully evocative of classic ’80s splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc…

But, it is also a modern novel too – about the best way to describe this is that the novel is maybe a little bit like Attack The Block mixed with the film adaptation of V For Vendetta mixed with 28 Days Later and/or possibly the first “Resident Evil” movie.

As a horror novel, this story works really well πŸ™‚ Although it isn’t exactly scary, it is filled with the kind of intense, ultra-gruesome, claustrophobic, tragic, dystopian, fast-paced and suspenseful horror that you would expect from a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel.

Likewise, this novel also includes some transgressive horror, some medical horror, a bit of paranormal horror, lots of apocalyptic horror, a few moments of gothic horror and some insect-based horror too. In other words, this isn’t a novel for the easily shocked or horrified.

Interestingly, the zombies in this novel are modern-style fast-moving zombies – with the zombie virus also being spread via infected fleas (like the bubonic plague) and having some kind of paranormal component to it too.

This allows for some fairly inventive scenes, such as infected characters having psychic visions or pickled specimens in a nearby medical museum returning to life. In addition to this, the fast-moving zombies also help to keep the later parts of the story suitably thrilling too. But, thankfully, some classic tropes of the genre (eg: aim for the head!) still remain too πŸ™‚

Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too πŸ™‚ In addition to a few movie/TV references, a subtle reference to James Herbert’s “The Rats“, arguments about whether the zombies are actually zombies and some amusing dialogue segments, there are also a few brilliant moments of grotesque humour too (such as a heartwarmingly romantic reunion… of zombies) which will either make you laugh out loud or feel slightly queasy.

The novel’s dystopian elements are pretty interesting too. Although they’re mostly kept to the background, this story is set in a vaguely “V For Vendetta”-style version of Britain that has a nationalistic UKIP/Tory-style government, daily curfews, armed police, mysterious conspiracies etc.. With the only reason that it hasn’t turned into a full-blown 1984-style dictatorship mostly just being because of governmental incompetence, stinginess/austerity etc.. Seriously, this novel is a brilliant piece of political satire.

However, one fault with this novel is that it overloads the reader with characters and sub-plots during the first half of the novel. Yes, all of these sub-plots do add scale, suspense, emotional depth, narrative breadth etc… and the story does become more streamlined later, but it means that the crucial early parts of the story aren’t always as fast-paced or focused as they should be.

This wouldn’t have been too bad if this novel had used the classic splatterpunk technique of killing off most of the background characters after just one chapter, but they’ll often get at least a couple of chapters (if not more) – which bogs the story down a bit.

In terms of the characters, they’re all reasonably well-written. Like in classic splatterpunk novels, the focus is more on ordinary people rather than on soldiers, politcians, police officers etc.. Although, as mentioned earlier, the focus on introducing lots of characters near the beginning of the story does make the story feel a little bit less focused than it should be.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good. In addition to switching between more formal and more informal narration depending on the situation, the story’s narration also contains some absolutely awesome descriptions – like this one: “The church was a squat, ugly, moss-covered building that perched like a toad in a sea of mud and tangled vegetation, from which broken, slanted gravestones jutted like old teeth.

However, one minor annoyance is that the novel randomly switches to present-tense narration during one or two chapters though. Even so, this novel is wonderfully readable πŸ™‚

Like with the other “Zombie Apocalypse!” spin-off novel I’ve read, this one also includes a few greyscale illustrated pages too. But, most of these just seem to be pictures of blood-spattered hospital corridors and they don’t really add too much to the story. Then again, if you’re having difficulty picturing the settings, then I suppose they might come in handy.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 343 pages, it’s a little long by classic splatterpunk standards but on par with other modern horror novels. Likewise, although the novel becomes a lot more focused and fast-paced during the later parts, the numerous character introductions and the emphasis on suspense etc.. near the beginning means that the novel gets off to a slightly slower and less streamlined start than I would have liked.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Yes, it isn’t quite perfect, but it’s still really brilliant πŸ™‚ If you want to read a slightly more updated, modern version of the type of awesome old 1980s splatterpunk horror novels that used to be common in second-hand bookshops/charity shops a decade or two ago, then check this novel out.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.