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 🙂

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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.

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

Well, I was in the mood for another zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I am, of course talking about a second-hand copy of Dana Fredsti’s 2012 novel “Plague Town” that I found online a couple of weeks earlier.

Interestingly, this book seems to be the first part of a trilogy (and, yes, I’ll hopefully read the other two books at some point in the future), although it can also be enjoyed as a (mostly) stand-alone novel too.

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

This is the 2012 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Town” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene showing a family transforming into zombies after falling ill from a disease called “Walker’s Flu”. Then the story follows Ashley Parker, a student at a small university in the northern California town of Redwood Gove. Ashley is having a bad day.

Not only is she running late for lectures, but the lecturer’s sanctimonious assistant Gabriel berates Ashley for being late, whilst also giving annoying unsolicited dietary advice too. Once the lecture is over, Ashley meets her boyfriend Matt and both of them run into Gabriel. A hilarious scuffle between Matt and Gabriel follows, which ends with the three of them … sort of… becoming friends.

Sometime later, Ashley and Matt are having a romantic candlelit picnic on the campus grounds – when they are suddenly attacked by zombies. Ashley is bitten, but wakes up in a makeshift military hospital in the university.

Ashley’s lecturer informs her that the town has been overrun with zombies, but that she is a “wild card” – part of 0.01% of the population who are immune to the virus (and gain slightly enhanced strength, healing, senses etc.. when exposed to the virus). And, it soon becomes obvious that the military want the few immune survivors to join a secret task force dedicated to fighting the zombies….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 The best way to describe this story is “Buffy The Vampire Slayer mixed with a late-night zombie movie” and it is absolutely awesome. There’s a really good mixture of horror, dark comedy and thrilling action scenes and it is one of those novels that is, in the best way possible, like watching a gloriously cheesy B-movie 🙂

Whilst the novel’s horror elements aren’t that scary, they work really well. In addition to numerous ultra-gruesome scenes involving zombies, the novel also uses a few other types of horror too.

In addition to disease-based horror, character-based horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror, scientific horror and post-apocalyptic horror, there’s also a brilliantly disturbing scene (involving a survivor in a cabin) that will catch you by surprise at a point where you’re just starting to think “this is turning into more of a thriller novel than a horror novel“.

Likewise, this novel is also something of an old-school zombie novel too. In other words, the zombies here are traditional slow-moving zombies (with the story even containing some sarcastic remarks about how fast zombies only exist in movies because people have short attention spans). And, whilst the story contains many familiar zombie tropes, it also does a few innovative things too… which I won’t spoil. Even so, one of the story’s zombie-related plot twists is foreshadowed so heavily that it’s fairly easy to guess.

The novel’s thriller elements are also really good too. Although the main characters have the advantages of strength and weaponry, the novel often manages to add a real sense of drama and suspense to some of the story’s many zombie battles through things like making sure that the characters are vastly outnumbered and/or have to help their wounded comrades.

Even so, at least a couple of the thrilling action scenes in this novel have all of the suspense of a superhero movie (which is to say, very little). Even so, this novel is a really enjoyable action-thriller novel.

In terms of the novel’s comedy elements, they’re absolutely brilliant. In addition to lots of amusingly sarcastic dialogue/narration and a bit of dark comedy, this is also one of those novels that is absolutely crammed with pop culture references – and most of them are really good (eg: The Evil Dead, Army Of Darkness, Tremors, Alien, Buffy, The A-Team, Romero, Fulci etc..). This novel is also a brilliantly cynical parody of a few horror/thriller tropes too – such as in a scene involving a sociopathic army general and in a segment about the value of pet cats.

The novel’s characters are surprisingly good too. Many of the characters have distinctive personalities, emotions, motivations and actual character development too (with at least a couple of unsympathetic characters becoming more sympathetic as the story progresses). Likewise, the dynamics of the zombie-fighting team and the relationships between the characters are also an important part of the story too.

Ashley is also a really cool protagonist too. Not only is she gleefully sarcastic and wonderfully badass, but she’s also the opposite of more prim and puritanical characters of this type (eg: Anita Blake, Buffy Summers etc..) too, which is really refreshing 🙂 Seriously, I love how this novel will often treat any kind of self-righteousness with the merciless sarcasm it deserves 🙂

The novel’s writing is also really good too. Most of the novel is narrated by Ashley, which not only gives the story a bit more personality but also allows for informal narration that is both hilarious and reasonably fast-paced too.

However, there are also a few random third-person segments which show how the zombie virus is affecting other parts of the town. Surprisingly, these perspective changes actually work really well – since they are both clearly signposted through the use of italic type and are short enough not to distract from the main story too much.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 350 pages in length, this novel is pretty much on par with many modern novels and didn’t feel too long. The novel’s pacing is really good too, with the story remaining reasonably fast-paced and gripping.

The novel’s more spectacular, suspenseful and thrilling moments are also balanced out with moments of comedy and character-based drama too. In addition to this, the story’s main plot is thankfully resolved in a satisfying way – with only a small last-minute cliffhanger setting up the sequel.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable and gripping novel 🙂 It contains an almost perfect mixture of horror, humour and thrills, which are backed up by good characterisation and personality-filled narration too 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, reading this novel is a bit like watching a really awesome late-night B-movie. Seriously, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂

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

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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂

Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂 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.

Review: “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” By S.D.Perry (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to review a different novel today, I didn’t really get along with that novel – so, I decided to re-read S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” instead 🙂 This was a novel that I first read at some point during my teenage years and, intriguingly, it’s an original spin-off story rather than a direct novelisation of one of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames.

So, although this novel is a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“, it is sort of a stand-alone story. There are lots of recaps near the beginning and the main story is reasonably self-contained. However, it is worth taking the statement on the blurb (that this novel bridges the gap between the first two “Resident Evil” videogames) with a pinch of salt.

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

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” that I read.

The novel is set in the American city of Racoon City. Following the local S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) team’s recent mission inside the zombie-filled Spencer mansion, there has been an official cover up by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. The team have been discredited in the press and are suspended, pending an investigation.

Team medic Rebecca Chambers travels to Barry Burton’s house to meet up with the rest of the team and plan what to do next. When she arrives, Barry introduces her to a member of another S.T.A.R.S team called David Trapp. David is an old friend of Barry’s and has agreed to help him gather evidence against Umbrella. As such, David suggests a covert mission to infiltrate an Umbrella facility in Maine called Caliban Cove.

However, before the team can finish planning the mission, masked henchmen start shooting at Barry’s house. After a firefight that wounds Barry, the team flee to the abandoned house of their cowardly pilot Brad Vickers and lie low. After a while, they decide that – due to her scientific expertise – Rebecca should travel to Maine with David in order to investigate the mysterious Caliban Cove facility…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it gets off to a reasonably slow start, it’s a fairly good sci-fi/horror thriller novel. However, it is at least slightly different in style and tone to the videogames it takes inspiration from. On it’s own merits, it’s still a fairly good novel, but don’t go into this novel expecting “Resident Evil 1.5” or anything like that.

One of the most noticeable differences are the novel’s horror elements. Whilst this novel still includes a few gruesome moments of grisly zombie horror, don’t expect the kind of all-out gorefest that Perry offered in “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Instead, the majority of this novel’s horror elements consist of suspenseful horror, character-based horror and medical/scientific horror.

The story’s attitude towards monster design is pretty interesting too. The main “monster” of the story is a megalomaniacal scientist called Griffiths who has refined the zombie virus to the point where he can use it to control the zombies. Whilst this does result in some rather silly elements (eg: teams of zombies with machine guns), it is used to brilliantly chilling effect in the scenes showing how Griffiths has turned some of his co-workers into zombified slaves.

The novel’s thriller elements are pretty interesting too, with slightly more focus on suspense and exploration than combat. For the most part, this works reasonably well, with the suspense being increased via things like David’s team losing their boat, the squads of armed zombies prowling the grounds or the fact that a character starts slowly succumbing to the zombie virus.

However, the novel’s suspense is undercut somewhat by the fact that David’s team stays together for most of the story. One of the things that made the original games so suspenseful was the fact that the characters are frequently separated from each other and, for the most part, this novel doesn’t include too much of this. Likewise, the reader also gets to see a lot of Griffiths’ evil schemes before the other characters do, which kind of ruins the mystery slightly.

Like in the videogames, the characters also have to solve a series of puzzles in order to progress. Although there is an explanation for these puzzles (eg: a scientist hid something in the zombie training area), they seem a little bit more random and contrived than usual. In other words, they seem more like an episode of “The Crystal Maze” than a natural part of the story. Even so, the glorious silliness of these parts of the story is wonderfully reminiscent of the classic “Resident Evil” games.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. In addition to an extended cameo from series regulars Barry Burton, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield at the beginning, the novel mostly focuses on Rebecca Chambers – and adds some extra depth to a character who was, at the time the novel was written, little more than a background character in the first videogame.

Likewise, the new characters (eg: David and his teammates Karen, John and Steve) are all reasonably well-written and, of course, Griffiths is a brilliantly creepy villain too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here to make you care about the characters.

In terms of the writing, Perry’s third-person narration is a reasonably good mixture of informal fast-paced thriller narration and more descriptive narration. Since the novel focuses on Rebecca, there’s a little bit more scientific jargon in this story than you might expect. Even so, the narration fits the story really well and helps to keep everything compelling.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 242 pages, this novel is gloriously concise and can be enjoyed in just a few hours 🙂 The novel’s pacing is mostly fairly good, consisting of lots of slower moments of suspense punctuated by frantic moments of action and horror. However, the first forty pages or so of this novel (which mostly consist of recaps, dialogue etc…) are far too slow-paced for a story of this type. A good thriller novel should start with something thrilling.

As for how this twenty-one year novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Although there are possibly a couple of mildly dated descriptions, the story is both timelessly gripping and wonderfully ’90s at the same time. Everything from the random silliness of some parts of the story, to the 1990s suburbia setting of the novel’s early scenes, to the story’s “classic Resident Evil”-style elements are a wonderful source of ’90s nostalgia 🙂

All in all, whilst this novel is kind of like “Resident Evil lite”, it’s both a reasonably fun (if a little silly) spin-off story and a fairly suspenseful sci-fi/horror thriller novel. If you’re a fan of the series, then this novel is an interesting addition to it.

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