Author(s): Stephen A North
Publisher: Library Of The Living Dead
Publication Date: 2008
An action led, suspenseful book about how the zombie apocalypse affects the different inhabitants of St Petersburg and Pinellas Park on the west coast of the US.
It kicks off straight away following a group of special forces officers sweeping and clearing an unspecified storefront area before introducing us in successive order to who could arguably be the four of the key characters and plot arcs contained within the story.
The drama unfolds in real-time with the action written in present tense, this allows the reader to piece together all the action and how the events inter-relate providing a very immersive and addictive experience for the reader as the anticipation to find out what happens next drives you to continue reading. It also helps give the survivors actions a little more urgency with this approach working really well, especially when the action is getting a little tense. This is helped by very short, character specific chapters to allow for a fast flowing, fluent story line. However, with the ever-increasing characters it can sometimes become difficult to remember their backgrounds or past actions if they have only had one brief chapter earlier in the book. This became more apparent on the second read which actually became more enjoyable as I was able to make more connections between characters and events as well as their past actions.
A minor criticism of the book is that it needs to be proof read as a few minor mistakes did sneak through however none affect the quality of the story as the author’s love of all things zombie shines through. Meanwhile within the story the only criticism that I could think of would be that sometimes the same language is repeated by the characters in the same chapters and this hinted at a lack of unimaginative writing, whereby the author seemed unable to articulate his ideas. Although this, admittedly, does not happen that often and is possibly a little harsh when one considers the quality of the story and it’s pacing.
One final criticism is that, and look away now if you don’t want a loose spoiler, the ending is too abrupt and does not give us any answers or closure. What happened to the survivors and more importantly what happened to the rest of the zombies and the cities? Was it contained or had the outbreak expanded into other territories? It is possible that the author wanted us to draw our own conclusions or was always planning a sequel, which personally I am hoping for as the real-time, often first person perspectives of the chapters will lend itself perfectly to continuing the story and expanding the character development.
Where to start with this book – in fact it would be easier to explain that it follows several independent groups as they try to survive the zombie outbreak that has besieged their cities and as the story progresses their paths start to intertwine. Key members of these groups include a cop (Talaski) and his ex-army buddy (Keller), a couple of gang members with moral codes (Tracks and Bronte), a stripper (Trish) and a very sleazy police officer named Dodds.
The short chapters of this book really helped to keep the action fast and allowed for the writer to flick between characters more readily allowing the reader to interpret the events simultaneously as they actually happened and it is because of this approach that I couldn’t put the book down until I reached a natural break in the story.
The writing style was easy to read and maintained consistency throughout providing an effortless and enjoyable read with the author changing pace perfectly to suit the story. As previously mentioned, this dynamic control used is one of the key strengths of the book and when backed up with a strong, articulate story and more than enough of the living dead it comes into its own.
Zombie Fear Factor: ****
For the everyday citizens and even the police they cannot comprehend what is going on as they don’t even realise they are right in the middle of a zombie outbreak until it is too late. This is highlighted by a police officer panicking and fleeing a crime scene in his cruiser when approached by what seems like an angry mob. The zombies are described well, looking rotting and maimed with this, combined with their incessant moaning, having psychological effect on all of our characters.
Although, not everyone in the book is a civilian or emergency service worker – there are also small special forces team who seem to hold no fear of the undead creatures, at least not one that is projected outwards and they set about doing their job just like any other day and with considerably more success and teamwork than these teams are afforded in the movies (dawn of the dead and zombie flesh eaters for one).
Zombie Behaviour: *****
They don’t speak, run or use tools. In fact they don’t seem to do anything except stumble around and attack any nearby humans unless they are stopped by a bullet to the head – perfect zombie behaviour. Throughout the book there is very little mention of any animals in the city but from an early paragraph we learn that the undead are not above feasting on family pets if no other living creature is nearby to provide a snack.
There is no actual confirmation of how the zombies know where the humans are although throughout the book they are always attracted by gun fire, explosions and noise (as well as the usual visual stimulus). Although the cause of the outbreak is unknown, we can see that once bitten the human is effectively poisoned and WILL return as one of the living dead, leaving the question what to do with them while they are still technically alive.
In the book there is no one “big daddy” character or indeed any order to the zombie hordes or their plans, they are simply a group of individuals just looking out for a next meal and as such this is possibly what makes them a larger threat.
Zombie Threat: ****
As mentioned previously there is no leader or overall aim for the zombies, they are merely walking around mindless searching for humans to eat. It is because of this that the threat is so high – they wont stop once they have reached an objective but rather will continue until everyone is dead. Even they will continue to roam the earth looking for food. This outbreak on the west coast is just the beginning.
With this being set in the USA, guns are plentiful and more so considering the affiliations of some of the characters they are able to dispatch small groups of the undead with relative ease or if the situation calls for it to make a run for it. Although this is where the threat increases as if our human survivors stay around in one place for too long then more and more of the undead are attracted to the area using sheer numbers to overwhelm our armed protagonists.
Gore Content: ***
There is enough gore in this book to keep everyone satisfied, with not all of it involving zombies. The intentions and acts of the zombies are described perfectly allowing you to visualise (if you so wish) exactly how the combat is going and ending, with a key example of this being the descriptions given when a zombie is close enough to pounce and go for the jugular on a panicked human. However, this book only gets 3/5 because it could have gone a lot further with the description and a lot more extreme. Which is a shame that it didn’t as I feel that it was the only thing that actually let it down from a fan perspective, after all with zombies being a niche market within an already niche market the writer can afford to go that little bit further without having to worry about mass acceptance.
Overall Quality: *****
You can tell that this is a book written by and for zombie fans with this enthusiasm driving the book and actually generating excitement for me to begin reading as I knew it was written by someone probably just like me (only marginally more talented haha).
It delivers everything a zombie fan could want that forms a great story– a zombie apocalypse, violence, dysfunctional pockets of survivors and the good guys that you root for. However this book plays on these themes well with each character having different personalities that evolve along with the story.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to any zombie fans, and despite any criticisms that I have it succeeds, as it provides an enjoyable and addictive read that no only works on its own but also in the grand scheme of zombie lore and it is for this that I hold it in very high esteem.