Outbreak: The Zombie Apocalypse
Author(s): Craig Jones
Publisher: e-Volvo books
Publication Date: 2012
A Zombie epidemic suddenly sweeps across Great Britain, causing the victims to seek out the living and feed on their flesh. In a small, remote village in South Wales, two privileged brothers are forced into action as others seek their refuge from the undead.
Told from a first person perspective of our main protagonist Matt, the story is set over three sections and two periods: The initial outbreak and the aftermath, with each section being distinct from the others allowing the author to utilise a range of methods to great effect, with my personal favourite being the initial aftermath which is a lot more intimate and emotional, really adding an element of gravitas to the story, as it allows the reader to once again connect with the characters and really become invested in them.
However I can’t help but feel that the commercial package as whole would have been stronger had the final section been omitted as although it provides, arguably the most exciting and tense scenario it also feels a little uneven compared to the rest of the book and slightly out-of-place even with the justification of evolution (read the book and you will understand what I mean), and it appears to have been bolted on.
Utilising a descriptive approach, the story is well paced and engaging, and will grab you but not for the action but rather due to the key character relationships, and it would be interesting to note if the decision to focus on this was in any way influenced by the success of The Walking Dead where it seeks to differentiate itself through drama and the use of emotion. That is not to say that the action is in any way lacking, quite the opposite – due to it not being the focus of the book when it does break out it has more impact and due to the descriptive style of writing employed the reader is able to clearly visualise both the general atmosphere and detailed actions relayed by the author.
All of this would be wasted however if Craig Jones didn’t employ real, believable characters and thankfully, to an extent he delivers. Now, I say to an extent simply because a few peripheral characters did not seem to have any depth to them, although in defence they did not need any more fleshing out and were adequate for their role in the story. What is important though is that the main brothers (Matt and Danny) were well-developed both individually and also their relationship between each other and this really allows the reader to invest in their lives and engage in the story.
Worthy of particular note is the way that the author conveys Matt’s emotional state and how it begins to affect his judgement and actions throughout the story, and this is something that impressed me as we, the reader, were taken on a journey, and made to feel almost like a voyeur as we share in his situation but from the safety of our own surroundings. It is the author’s ability to do this, that really makes this book stand out from many others as it allows him the freedom draw us in and take his time and the story is all the better for it.
Zombie Fear Factor: ****
These zombies are unrelenting, well unless you happen to be friends with them but even in that unlikely situation that’s just one out of potentially millions. For the most part the zombies represent a faceless horde forcing survivors into either confrontation or submission by attrition and although contained once the threat clearly is not so easy to eradicate, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum ‘non-life will find a way’ and we are all fucked when it does as the undead want to swell their ranks and they will damned (more so) if anyone tries to stop them.
Zombie Behaviour: ***
A tough one to call as we encounter two distinct types of zombie, or one could argue even three and as a result of our love for slow, shambling Romero zombies here at Zombipedia HQ I have had to unfortunately mark down the zombie behaviour.
The first part of the story features the aforementioned slow, shambling zombies with very low levels of intelligence and herd-like behaviour. These zombies can be killed by trauma to the brain although late into the story we also learn that they can be almost domesticated and develop a very rudimentary ability to communicate, imagine if Bub did manage to say hello to Aunt Elisa, you get the idea, and so in essence an element of their past personality is retained.
Meanwhile, the second infection zombies differ not only in that they turn almost straight away once infected as opposed to a slight delay but also significantly they retain full strength and agility and almost full cognitive functions, leading their involvement to feel like an unofficial spin-off of 28 days later. Interestingly these zombies seemingly have a hierarchical structure and are highly organised, meaning they can herd and trap their prey and much worse.
Zombie Threat: *****
This is a tricky one to score as previously mentioned there are two types of zombies in this book, but both are equally devastating in the right conditions and so a full score has to be awarded as the zombies almost evolve with genetic mutations (please note this is not physical) they soon become adept at not just hunting humans but also perpetuating the survival of the zombie race and for that its truly terrifying.
However, like many zombie stories, initially a lot of human casualties are caused by the humans themselves, in this story it is often down to the incompetence and over eager attitude of those seeking to be saved as they foolishly charge into situations with no assessment of the risks or situation. Ultimately though the threat is high and it is our own lack of care which will speed up our own personal demise.
Gore Content: **
The writing style as mentioned is descriptive but not graphic, Craig Jones provides us with enough detail to imagine the scenario but does not over indulge and this helps keep the pace of the action up and the writing to remain tight and focused. As a result, although it may score below the half way mark it is not indicative of the overall quality, but rather the content relative to this particular metric. One such example is the following line; “her eye drooled out of its socket, bouncing against her exposed cheekbone as she ran.” which provides an accurate snapshot into the writing on offer.
Overall Quality: ****
This story is clearly written by not just a fan of the genre but also someone who knows what makes it tick, with overt references to Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later and Max Brooks it says something that the author has made something entirely his own that stands out from the crowd of not just zombie books but horror in general due to the overall emotional and characterisation on offer here.
It wasn’t all plain sailing however, due to a couple of spelling and punctuation errors and with an element of the final quarter dipping somewhat before suddenly picking up the pace in a frantic race involving getting to Cardiff castle, hordes of the undead and then getting the hell back out again.
What we get here is a personal drama set around a zombie outbreak, and this is something that really adds to the power of the story and something that I would recommend to any reader of zombie fiction as we witness the mental journey and torment of our key protagonist. So support quality British writers and keep the zombie dream alive, this book is also available on digital formats and I would suggest that you hunt it down sooner rather than later.