Review: “Dawn Of The Dead” By George A. Romero & Susanna Sparrow (Novel)

Well, for the penultimate novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d read a zombie novel. In particular, I thought that I’d re-read George A.Romero & Susanna Sparrow’s 1978 novelisation of Romero’s classic zombie movie “Dawn Of The Dead”.

Although I first saw the film and read this novelisation during my mid-teens (after finding a copy for just 40p in a charity shop/second-hand bookshop), I couldn’t really remember that much about either thing. So, it seemed like the perfect time to take another look at the book.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dawn Of The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1979 Sphere Books (UK) paperback edition of “Dawn Of The Dead” that I read.

The story begins in Philadelphia, in the studios of W-GON TV during a zombie apocalypse. Whilst debates about the apocalypse rage on air, assistant manager Francine Parker tries to get an updated list of rescue stations posted on air against the wishes of her boss. After several arguments break out and everything starts to fall into chaos, Francine’s boyfriend Steve tells her about a plan to use the traffic helicopter to escape.

Meanwhile, Steve’s friend Roger is waiting outside of an apartment block. Roger is a member of a S.W.A.T team, aided by the military, who want to evacuate the residents of the tower to a rescue station. The people in the tower don’t want to leave, and it isn’t long before a gunfight breaks out between them and the authorities. In addition to this, many of the tower’s dead also begin to rise from the grave as flesh-eating zombies.

During the violent chaos, a trooper called Peter saves Roger’s life and – realising that the battle isn’t going well – Roger tells Peter about Steve’s plan to steal a helicopter and get the hell out of town. So, both men decide to go AWOL….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it isn’t perfect, it’s a reasonably compelling zombie thriller that is still fairly readable. In short, it’s a book that – whilst still fairly ok – seemed much more impressive when I was a teenager.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they consist of the gory horror and post-apocalyptic horror that you would expect from a zombie story, in addition to many moments of suspenseful horror, claustrophobic horror and character-based horror too.

Although the novel is slightly more gruesome than what I remember of the film, the novel’s moments of gory horror are probably more comparable to other 70s horror novels, like James Herbert’s “The Rats“, than the ultra-gruesome splatterpunk fiction of the 1980s.

Surprisingly, the main focus of the novel’s is more on suspense and post-apocalyptic chaos. These elements works really well, with the survivors spending most of the novel in peril from either zombies, environmental factors or other survivors. This story also has a really claustrophobic atmosphere that helps to add a lot of tension to the story.

Likewise, one interesting thing about the novel’s bleak post-apocalyptic settings is that, for the most part, the power grid is still working – giving the story’s iconic shopping centre a really eerie atmosphere (eg: since it seems both normal and post-apocalyptic at the same time).

In addition to this, the fact that the electricity is somehow still on also allows the characters to find radio and TV reports about the apocalypse, which help to add a sense of scale to the story whilst also adding to the desolate atmosphere too (since most of the TV broadcasts are debates/arguments about how to deal with the zombie plague).

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they work fairly well. Although the characters find themselves in lots of suspenseful situations and/or fast-paced battles, some of these seem more suspenseful than others (due to the writing style). Even so, the novel is still a fairly decent thriller that mixes tense scenes of survival with more action-packed scenes.

Thematically, the novel seems reasonably similar to what I remember of the film. However, the story’s parallels between zombies and consumerism are made a bit more explicit in the novel (with a couple of references to “a consumer society” etc..). The novel also seems to add a few feminist themes to the story too. Some of these moments work fairly well in dramatic terms (eg: Fran’s frustration at not being seen as an equal member of the group), but some are a bit corny (eg: the line “But now was not the time to raise his consciousness” etc…).

In terms of the writing, it is… functional… I guess. Overall, the novel’s third-person narration is the kind of narration you’d expect from a 1970s thriller novel (eg: slightly more formal than a modern one, but still fairly “matter of fact”). But, whilst this novel is fairly readable most of the time, the narration probably isn’t the most well-written that I’ve ever read.

In addition to several noticeable uses of the passive voice, some rather dull/repetitive sentences, weird terminology (eg: rifle bullets are referred to as “shells”), random jumps to other locations (without so much as a line break) and a few sentences that don’t flow that well, some of the novel’s more suspenseful scenes also get so bogged down in descriptions of locks, doors, escalators etc.. that they can become mildly confusing. Even so, this novel is mostly still fairly readable despite some noticeable flaws with the writing.

As for the characters, they’re ok. Whilst there isn’t lots of ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough characterisation to make you care about the characters. Likewise, a lot of the novel’s drama comes from the complicated and terse relationships between the four main characters. A lot of the characterisation is also done in a cinematic way (eg: through dialogue, personalities etc..), although there are obviously a few moments of more traditional novelistic characterisation too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At an efficient 216 pages, this novel could teach modern novels a thing or two about brevity. But, whilst the novel’s pacing is moderately fast throughout, the story is probably at it’s most gripping during the earlier and later parts. Whilst the middle is still fairly compelling, the focus on survival within a single location doesn’t really have the same sensation of motion that the rest of the story does.

As for how this forty-one year old novel has aged, it shows it’s age but hasn’t aged too terribly. For the time it was written, it was probably a fairly progressive novel – even if the way the novel handles this will sometimes seem a bit awkward, earnest and/or dated when read today. Likewise, whilst the writing style and atmosphere of the story are fairly 70s, it’s still fairly readable and the story still remains compelling when read these days.

All in all, whilst this novel is probably best enjoyed when you are an uncritical teenager rather than a more cynical adult, it’s still a fairly compelling and atmospheric zombie thriller. Even though the writing isn’t spectacular, the novel’s horror elements still work reasonably well and there’s a decent amount of suspense too.

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

Review: “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a zombie novel that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D. Perry’s 1999 novel “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”.

I can’t remember if I played the PC port of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame before or after first reading this book during my early-mid teens. But, the original “Resident Evil 2” holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons (amongst other things, magazine articles about it were my first introduction to the zombie genre). So, I’ve been meaning to re-read this novel for a long time.

But I should probably point out that, addition to being a novelisation of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame, this novel is also a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” and “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove“. Although it is possible to read most of this novel as a stand-alone book, a few of the extra scenes (not found in the game) will make a lot more sense if you’ve read Perry’s previous two books first.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” that I read.

The novel begins with a collection of local newspaper articles from 1998, talking about police politics and mysterious murders in the US city of Racoon City. The novel then includes a brief (non-canonical) scene showing Jill Valentine returning to her apartment to pick up some stuff, before joining the surviving S.T.A.R.S team members as they prepare to flee to Europe.

The novel then begins the story of “Resident Evil 2”. A rookie cop called Leon Kennedy is running late for work after misjudging the traffic in New York. It is his first day on the force in Racoon City and he wants to make a good impression on Chief Irons. But, as he approaches the city, he notices that the streets are unusually deserted. Not long after that, he makes a grisly discovery.

Meanwhile, Claire Redfield, is riding her motorbike to Racoon City after not hearing from her brother Chris in several weeks. When she arrives in town, she decides to stop off in a local all-night diner, only to find that the cook has turned into a zombie and started devouring another member of staff.

As more zombies lurch towards her, Claire flees the restaurant and runs into Leon. Needless to say, both of them need to find some way to survive in this city of the dead….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really compelling zombie thriller novel that also does some clever stuff with the source material too. However, since it is a thriller, it doesn’t stand up to re-reading as much as I’d hoped (since the suspense works less well if you already know what will happen). Even so, it’s still a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride of a story that fans of the zombie genre and/or “Resident Evil” will enjoy 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they mostly consist of lots of well-written gory horror, some body horror/monster horror, some suspenseful horror and a bit of character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t really that frightening, it’s considerably gorier than the original videogame and is a bit like a fast-paced splatterpunk novel (such as Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus) in some ways 🙂

Still, as mentioned earlier, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel. And, in this regard, it works really well. Not only is there lots of suspense, multiple plot threads (with mini-cliffhangers), a fast-paced writing style and lots of dramatic fight scenes, but the novel also manages to keep some of the survival horror elements of the original games. In other words, the characters are sometimes low on ammo and/or wounded in some way or another.

In terms of how well it adapts the original “Resident Evil 2”, this novel does a really good job 🙂 The novel follows Leon’s “A” scenario and Claire’s “B” scenario, interweaving both storylines absolutely perfectly. Yes, there are a few small changes (eg: Leon has the magnum from the start of the story, the gun shop guy is already dead when Leon finds him etc…) but the novel manages to cram pretty much every major moment of the game’s story into one book. Plus, some extra stuff too.

In addition to adding a lot of extra characterisation to both the main characters and a few of the background characters (eg: Ada, Sherry, Annette, Chief Irons etc…), the novel also includes a few extra scenes and references that link in with the continuity of Perry’s novel series. Whilst the scene involving Jill Valentine has become non-canonical ever since “Resident Evil 3” was released, these extra scenes are a cool bonus for people who have read the previous two books. However, they may be a little bit confusing if you haven’t.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. As you would expect, this novel’s third-person narration is mostly written in the kind of informal, fast-paced, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a gripping action-thriller novel. But, in a nod to the source material’s horror elements, there is also more formal/descriptive narration during some moments of horror too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 338 pages, it might seem a little long at first – but, considering that it is cramming two versions of the same game (eg: Leon and Claire’s campaigns) into just one novel, it is relatively short 🙂 Likewise, as I’ve mentioned before, this novel is a thriller novel, so expect a reasonably fast-paced story with some slightly slower suspenseful moments too. Surprisingly, this works really well, considering how slow-paced the original videogame is.

As for how this twenty year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although the story itself will probably evoke lots of 1990s/early 2000s nostalgia (and there isn’t a smartphone in sight 🙂 ), it is the kind of adaptation that could almost have been written today. It also has a level of gruesomeness that reminded me of the preview footage I’ve seen of the modern remake of “Resident Evil 2” (yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.)

All in all, whilst the novel’s thriller elements work better when you read this novel for the very first time, it is still a really great zombie thriller novel 🙂 Not only does it cram the whole of “Resident Evil 2” into just one book, but it also adds lots of extra stuff and is also more of an intense experience (eg: pacing, horror etc..) than the original videogame is too 🙂 Even so, you need to read Perry’s previous two “Resident Evil” books to get the most out of this one.

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

Review: “The First Days” By Rhiannon Frater (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I read a zombie novel. So, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at Rhiannon Frater’s 2008 novel “The First Days”. This was a zombie novel that I found when I was looking online for second-hand horror novels and, after reading the first chapter, I just had to read the rest.

However, I should probably point out that this novel is the first in a series and doesn’t tell an entirely self-contained story. Even so, it still works reasonably well as a stand-alone novel.

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

This is the 2011 Tor (US) paperback edition of “The First Days” that I read.

The novel begins in an unnamed Texan city during a zombie apocalypse. After seeing her husband and sons turn into zombies, Jenni barely manages to escape her house before being rescued by a mysterious woman in a pick-up truck.

The two survivors, Jenni and Katie, decide to leave the city and head to the safety of the surrounding countryside. When they reach a petrol station, the attendant hasn’t heard about the zombies and mistakes them for thieves.

But, soon after they fill up the truck, the zombies begin to arrive at the station. Still shaken by everything that has happened, Jenni remembers that her stepson Jason is at summer camp in the nearby woods. So, they begin to plan a rescue…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really gripping, atmospheric and innovative zombie novel with excellent characterisation 🙂 It’s a little bit like a cross between Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead Of Night“, Dana Fredsti’s “Plague Town” and Melissa Marr’s “The Arrivals“, whilst also being somewhat different in tone and style to pretty much every other zombie and/or post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it is filled with the kind of fast-paced gruesome horror that you’d expect from a zombie novel, but there is also quite a bit of emphasis on bleak post-apocalyptic horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror and some moments of character-based horror too. Although there are lots of horrific zombie encounters, this is more of a novel about the emotional toll that the zombie apocalypse takes on those who survive it.

One of the really innovative things about this novel is how the other survivors are presented. Traditionally, zombie novels/films tend to make the other survivors more of a threat to the main characters than the actual zombies are.

However, this novel takes a slightly more realistic approach to the topic – with most of the other survivors Jenni and Katie encounter being friendly and eager to work together to protect themselves against a common threat.

In a similar way to the computer game “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“, this is an anarchist story in the best sense of the word. Whilst it doesn’t gloss over the occasional arguments and problems between the survivors, it is a novel about a group of people organising themselves without outside authority. Yes, some characters do lead the survivors at times, but this leadership is based on competence and consensus rather than official authority. Seriously, I’m surprised that this doesn’t turn up in more zombie novels.

As for the actual zombies, the novel mostly uses modern-style fast moving zombies, who sometimes display limited forms of intelligence. This adds a lot of fast-paced drama and suspense to the story, especially during the earlier parts.

Although the zombies have some traditional elements (eg: a bite turns someone into a zombie, zombies can only be killed by destroying the brain etc…), the novel also does a couple of other innovative things. For example, many of the characters are reluctant to use guns because the noise attracts more zombies and, when a zombie isn’t chasing a person, it just kind of stands there and does nothing.

In terms of the characters, this novel is excellent 🙂 In addition to a lot of well-written characterisation, a lot of the novel’s drama focuses on how the characters handle the zombie apocalypse emotionally, in addition to dealing with their memories of the time before the apocalypse (eg: Jenni is still haunted by memories of her violent husband, Katie spends the novel mourning her wife etc..).

As I mentioned earlier, the relationships between the survivors that Jenni and Katie meet are surprisingly, and realistically, friendly – although there are still arguments and conflicts. Plus, this novel’s romantic elements are also realistically complicated in the way that you’d expect with a group of random strangers meeting each other after an apocalypse too. Seriously, the characters are one of this novel’s major strengths 🙂

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly fast-paced and “matter of fact” way, whilst also including plenty of descriptions and characterisation too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a mixed bag. At 331 pages, it is neither too long nor too short. But, although the earlier parts of the novel are a brilliantly fast-paced adrenaline rush, most of the rest of the story has a slightly more moderate pace (with more of an emphasis on drama and/or suspense). Even so, the whole novel is still very compelling. However, perhaps because of the fact that it is the first novel in a series, the ending/epilogue feels somewhat rushed and some plot threads are also left unresolved.

All in all, this is a really well-written and innovative zombie novel with excellent characterisation 🙂 Yes, the pacing was a bit different to what the earlier parts of the story had led me to expect, but this is a very small criticism of a brilliant novel.

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

Review: “Anno Mortis” By Rebecca Levene (Novel)

Shortly after I finished reading Rebecca Levene’s “Ghost Dance” a few weeks earlier, I looked online for other books by this author.

To my surprise, I learnt that Levene had written a book for Abaddon Books’ “Tomes Of The Dead” collection 🙂 This was a short-lived collection of zombie novels published during the late 2000s and they often used to be the highlight of bookshop horror shelves (anyone remember those?) back in the day 🙂

So, needless to say, I ended up finding a second-hand copy of Levene’s 2008 novel “Anno Mortis” and then… got distracted by other books. But, since I was going through slightly more of a horror fiction phase than usual, I thought that I’d take a look at it. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

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

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I read the 2008 Abaddon Books (UK) paperback edition of this novel. However, I won’t include a scan of the book cover in this review, since part of it probably borders on being “Not Safe For Work”. Still, as a work of art, it is a really cool-looking cover that also uses both composition and visual storytelling in a way that hearkens back to novel covers of the 1980s (especially since, unlike a lot of modern book covers, it’s an actual painting too 🙂 )
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The novel begins in Ancient Rome, during the cruel reign of the Emperor Caligula. On a hot summer afternoon, an enslaved gladiator called Boda steps into the arena for the first time. Being a fierce Cimbri warrior from the north, Boda shows no mercy after besting her opponent. Whilst the crowd’s reaction to this is a little bit mixed, and Boda doesn’t exactly make any friends with the other gladiators, the senator Seneca is pleased since it means another dead body for his mysterious plot.

Caligula is also in attendance at the games and, after his uncle Claudius is accidentally humiliated, Caligula decides to rub salt into the wound by taking ownership of Claudius’ slave Narcissus. Narcissus is forced to work in the accounting offices of the palace, where he discovers some irregularities with the cargo manifests of one of Seneca’s ships and decides to investigate.

Meanwhile, a young man called Petronius incurs his father’s wrath after he is caught indulging in a moment of hedonism. Incensed by his son’s gluttony and debauchery, Petronius’ father orders him to spend his days studying rhetoric under the stern tutelege of Seneca. Although Petronius finds this dull at first, he happens to notice a fragment from the Egyptian book of the dead amongst Seneca’s scrolls. So, when Seneca leaves the house, Petronius decides to follow him…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is like heavy metal music in book form 🙂 Seriously, this gripping dark fantasy thriller novel is epic in almost every sense of the word 🙂 This is a novel about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Vikings (in all but name), gruesome zombies, evil cults meeting in dark catacombs, gladiatorial combat, epic mythology and lots of other dramatic stuff. Seriously, this is what fantasy fiction should be like 🙂

And, yes, you’ll notice that I said “fantasy” rather than “horror”. Whilst this novel does contain some really great horror elements, it is more of a fantasy novel than it initially appears to be. This mostly takes the form of magic, ancient mythology, Bangsian fantasy and supernatural creatures.

Although the novel’s fantasy elements do contain some small inconsistencies (eg: a character is suddenly shown to have the ability to use magical disguises, even though such an ability would have been much more useful during a chase scene several pages earlier), there is so much cool stuff here that these don’t really matter.

We’re talking about things like giant stone crocodiles, jackal-headed men, giant zombie elephants, mythical beasts, dark rituals, mysterious portals, evil scarab beetles, ancient gods/goddesses, the river Styx etc… But, all of this awesome heavy metal album cover stuff is also given a bit more depth than you would expect thanks to the characters and the plotting. Not only that, this novel has the kind of clever conclusion that is as capricious as an old saga and yet as emotionally powerful as one of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. Seriously, the epilogue left me in floods of tears, in the best way possible.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good. In addition to lots of nail-biting suspense, some tragic horror, some cruel horror, some gory horror, some occult/paranormal horror, some character-based horror and some psychological horror, this novel is also a surprisingly inventive take on the zombie apocalypse genre too.

The novel’s zombies are corpses whose skulls have been inhabited by possessed scarab beetles (and, yes, there is actually a good explanation for this). The more recently-deceased a zombie is, the more intelligent it is. Yet, even the most skeletal of zombies is still smart enough to do things like follow military strategies. But, at the same time, the zombies are also close enough to traditional horror movie zombies to still add a bit of classic-style zombie horror to the story 🙂

This novel is also an absolutely brilliant thriller novel too 🙂 In addition to all of the suspense that I’ve mentioned earlier, this novel contains some brilliantly dramatic fast-paced set pieces too. In addition to gladiatorial combat and several large and small scale zombie battles, this novel also includes a dramatic chariot chase through the streets of ancient Rome and other grippingly fast-paced things like this 🙂

The novel’s atmosphere and historical settings are really cool too 🙂 Whilst I haven’t studied the history enough to be able to say how accurate this novel is (then again, it has zombies in it), the Roman settings feel kind of like a cross between HBO’s “Rome” and “Spartacus: Blood And Sand” 🙂 This is also a novel that doesn’t shy away from the worst aspects of Roman society (eg: slavery, cruelty, poverty etc..) too. Likewise, there are also a couple of interesting historical cameos, such as the main characters meeting a young Emperor Nero.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. The main characters are a really interesting and sympathetic group of misfits, all of whom have personalities, flaws and motivations. Plus, although the novel’s villains do seem a little bit cartoonish (especially the cruel Emperor Caligula, who veers into the realms of dark comedy at times) even they are shown to have just enough redeeming qualities for you to both care about them and relish their satisfyingly cathartic demises.

In terms of the writing, this novel is really good too 🙂 The third-person narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story flowing at a fast pace, whilst also including enough descriptions to lend the story some atmosphere and personality too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 356 pages, it is refreshingly lean and efficient when compared to the average tome-sized fantasy or thriller novel. Likewise, the novel’s pacing is handled really well too. Whilst the story remains consistently gripping and fast-paced, there’s a really good progression from the suspenseful drama of the early parts of the story to the more action-paced and epic later parts of the story 🙂

All in all, this novel was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 It’s like heavy metal music in book form 🙂 It is a gloriously badass mixture of the thriller, fantasy, historical fiction and zombie genres 🙂 If you enjoy things like HBO’s “Rome”, “Spartacus: Blood And Sand”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and the “Stargate” movies/TV shows but also wish there were zombies too, then read this book 🙂

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

Review: “Plague World” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, since I’ve read both the first and second parts of Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy, I thought that it was time to take a look at my second-hand copy of the third novel – “Plague World” (2013) today 🙂

Although this novel contains enough recaps to theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel, it pretty much picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. As such, you’ll get a lot more out of this novel (especially the later parts) if you read the previous two books in the trilogy first.

So, let’s take a look at “Plague World”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Nation”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague World” that I read.

After a short introductory scene showing the zombie virus spreading to London, the story moves back to San Francisco and picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. The elite “wild cards” team of zombie fighters is stranded in a zombie-infested medical facility and missing several members.

Once they find a way to safety, Ashley Parker has several things on her mind. Not only does she have to prepare for a daring rescue mission but she is also threatened by one of the team’s sleazier new recruits and also has to find a way to track down vital medication for Lil too….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, even if the novel’s main story takes a while to truly hit it’s stride.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good 🙂 In additional to the kind of splatterpunk-like ultra-gruesome zombie horror that you would expect, this novel also contains some brilliantly creepy moments of suspenseful horror, tragic horror, character-based horror, apocalyptic horror, disturbing horror, taboo-based horror etc.. too. Like in the previous two novels, this novel also includes at least a couple of brilliantly disturbing moments of story-based horror where the situation itself is the main source of horror.

One cool feature of this novel is that it also contains short chapters showing how the zombie virus affects different parts of the world. These segments contain a really good mixture of thrills, tragedy, irreverent dark comedy and/or cynical nihilism. And, although the main story improves as the novel progresses, these short side-stories remain consistently good throughout the novel and really help to keep the earlier parts compelling 🙂

In terms of the novel’s action-thriller elements, they’re especially good during the later parts of the novel 🙂 In short, whilst this is a fairly action-packed novel throughout, the early-middle parts of the main story tend to focus a bit more on things like character-based drama, heavy subject matter, small-scale suspense etc… which can detract from the story’s gripping action-thriller elements a little bit.

But, it is worth reading earlier parts of the story just to get to the awesome final segment. In addition to some brilliantly epic action scenes (involving explosions, a biker gang, a secret base etc..) there are also loads of dramatic plot twists, some brilliantly disturbing moments of horror, some excellent satire and a couple of wonderfully heartwarming moments. This is one of those novels where I was reading it very slightly reluctantly during the early parts, but was absolutely gripped during the later parts.

In terms of the characters, they’re pretty interesting. Although there is lots of character-based drama and characterisation, some of this can get in the way of the story a little bit. Even so, it adds depth to the story and also serves as a recap for new readers too.

Still, the best character-based moments appear in the later parts of the novel, where a couple of good and evil main characters turn out to be a bit more morally-ambiguous than previously thought. Plus, there is also a wonderfully heartwarming character-based scene in the last few pages of the novel that will probably make you cry with happiness 🙂

In terms of the writing, it is as good as ever 🙂 Like with previous novels in the series, this novel uses a combination of first and third-person narration. This is clearly signposted to the reader via both titles and italic text, which prevents the perspective changes from being confusing. The novel’s first-person segments are also written in the kind of gloriously informal, pop culture reference-filled way that you would expect and they are really fun to read 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At 308 pages, this novel never really feels too long. Plus, even though the later parts of the novel are more gripping than the earlier parts, the whole story is written in a reasonably fast-paced way. Even so, I wish that more of the novel was like the truly excellent later segments.

All in all, this is a good conclusion to a really good trilogy. Yes, I preferred the later parts of this novel to the early/middle parts of it, but the story is still a rather compelling and dramatic one. If you’ve read the previous two books, then this one is well worth reading for the scenes set around the world and the brilliantly gripping final parts of the main story.

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

Review: “Plague Nation” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, after reading Dana Fredsti’s awesome “Plague Town” a while ago, I eventually found a reasonably-priced second-hand copy of the 2013 sequel “Plague Nation” online. And, since the weather had cooled down a bit, I thought that it was finally time to actually read it 🙂

Although this novel is a sequel, it contains enough recaps for you to theoretically read it without reading “Plague Town” (but you’ll get more out of it if you read that novel first). However, I should point out that “Plague Nation” is also the middle novel in a trilogy too. In other words, don’t expect it to be a fully self-contained story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Plague Nation”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Town”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Nation” that I read.

“Plague Nation” begins shortly after the events of “Plague Town”. The team of “wild card” immune survivors are clearing out the remaining zombies from the isolated California town of Redwood Grove. However, thanks to the contaminated flu vaccine, there are small-scale zombie outbreaks in other parts of America.

Not only that, things start going wrong in Redwood Grove. The team’s leader – Gabriel – seems to be even more of a self-righteous ass than usual, an attempt to rescue a survivor goes horribly wrong and it also seems like someone is out to sabotage the secret research lab in the town’s university…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a story of two halves. One of the things I’ve noticed about modern zombie sequels (Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night” springs to mind too) is that they often tend to start with the slower-paced physical and emotional aftermath of the previous novel. In other words, the first half or so of this novel is more of a drama (with occasional moments of action, suspense and horror) than the kind of thrilling zombie-fighting adventure that you’d expect. Of course, things pick up again as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re reasonably good. Although the first half of the novel is a little bit more understated and slow-paced, this is where the bulk of the story’s horror can be found. Although the whole story contains the kind of splatterpunk-style ultra-gruesome zombie horror you would expect, the first half of the novel contains many of the story’s truly disturbing moments of horror. In addition to a shocking character death, there’s the disturbing return of a character from the first novel and several other exquisitely tragic, gross and/or horrific scenes too.

Plus, in true splatterpunk fashion, the novel is peppered with short chapters about other random characters in other locations being faced with the zombie outbreak too. These chapters help to add a sense of scale to the story, whilst also helping to add moments of horror to more slow-paced segments of the story too.

As mentioned earlier, the novel turns into more of an action-thriller story as it progresses. The slower first half of the story helps to build up the suspense and set the scene for a gripping “edge of your seat” mission to the zombie-infested streets of San Francisco. And, this part of the story is where the novel really hits it’s stride and becomes the kind of epic, badass zombie apocalypse thriller that the first novel will have led you to expect.

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. The zombie-fighting team are a slightly stylised band of misfits, who receive a reasonable amount of characterisation as the story progresses. Plus, although the story starts off with lots of arguments and other such things, the characterisation remains consistently good throughout most of the novel.

In terms of the writing, this novel uses both first and third-person narration. Although this might sound confusing or annoying, it actually works well since the third-person segments are clearly signposted via italic text. And, like in “Plague Town”, the first-person perspective parts of the novel are narrated by Ashley Parker – a wonderfully cynical, irreverent and badass zombie fighter who is never short of a pop culture reference or two. These parts of the story are written in a fairly informal way and they really help to add personality and humour to the story, whilst also keeping things moving at a decent pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is reasonably good. At 318 pages in length, it is both long enough and short enough. Likewise, the novel begins in a relatively slow-paced way, although this is mostly to set the stage for the more fast-paced later parts of the novel. Even so, the informal narration and several well-placed moments of horror and drama help to keep the beginning of the story compelling enough.

Still, this novel is the middle part of a trilogy. So, like with watching a “to be continued” episode of a TV show, the pacing and drama builds to such a point near the end of the novel that you’ll just know that everything won’t be resolved in the remaining few pages. Yes, there is a little bit of resolution at the end of the novel but there are quite a lot of mysterious unresolved background details and a bit of a cliffhanger ending.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Although it is a little bit slow to really get started, it is still a decent follow-up to “Plague Town” and, if you liked that novel, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Yes, I preferred the second half of the novel to the first, but both are really good. Still, just be aware that this novel is the middle part of a trilogy.

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

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.