Review of Bryon Morrigan’s “Acheron”
Captain Nate Leathers of the U.S. Army is in Iraq on a routine patrol in a small town outside of Basra when his Humvee convoy gets ambushed by insurgents. As the only survivor, he is taken prisoner and dumped in an underground dungeon by the insurgents. Not long after that, there are explosions and other chaos from up above, and a strange green mist starts floating through his prison cell. Concerned that it’s a chemical weapon, he tries to avoid it, but after a while comes to accept that it seems to have no effect on him. He manages to escape the abandoned dungeon and makes it to the streets of Basra, where he discovers that it seems as if the dead are walking and there are very few people still left alive. Hiding and escaping on foot from trouble with an Iraqi named Muhammad, he discovers there are far worse creatures than zombies roaming the streets-creatures that seem to have crawled (and flown) up from the depths of hell. But even with all of that, the real trouble starts for Leathers when he comes across a group of survivors who create even more of a hell on earth for him.
Archeron starts out strong as a tale told in first person. The author does a solid job of explaining military terminology and other aspects of life in the field without going overboard with it. He also does a good job of keeping the reader in the dark as to what is happening outside of the narrow perspective of the main character early on. This gives a sense of claustrophobia which increases the story’s intensity level a few notches for the first third of the book. Even as Leathers makes his escape from the insurgent’s dungeon, the mystery surrounding the green mist and the strange, zombie-like creatures that bewilder him at first kept the story moving at a rapid, entertaining clip. He starts to get his bearings and discovers there are more than just zombies involved in this strange new world he is a part of, which makes the story even more interesting. I liked it when Muhammad, the Iraqi who saves Leathers early in the story, does his best to explain that the shambling figures out on the street are indeed zombies, despite a language barrier. I thought he put the message across in a very creative way. I do regret that Muhammad didn’t play a bigger role in this tale. I would have liked to see more of him.
I enjoyed the fact that this story does take place in Iraq, which is not the typical locale for a zombie story. But as I read through this book, I realized that this is not a zombie story, but a story of demons and ancient mythology. The author has a strong knowledge of how the military operates and the ancient mythology he chooses to develop his horror creations. The action moves at a steady clip early on and in the latter stages of the book, with quite a bit of time in the middle dealing with interpersonal conflicts and the characters pondering what is actually happening.
Unfortunately, I did have a couple of issues with the story that took away from my enjoyment of it.
The first is what I will call ‘asides’ that distract from the main tale. These take place when, for example, the main character spends a chapter discussing the benefits of wearing your combat boots while you sleep, or when the main character starts contemplating the meaning of life-an example of this is when Captain Leathers states that one man’s religion does not make him any more or less moral than another man. These asides bog down the story for me, slowing the tempo and detracting, rather than adding to the texture and complexity of the tale.
My second issue was with Leathers himself. He struck me as a contradictory character. One the one hand, he is a combat vet and an officer who has the guts and confidence to make life and death decisions every day. On the other hand, he fails to take aggressive stance that would diffuse a dangerous situation again and again. I won’t elaborate on this further to avoid revealing spoilers. I will say that I do like a character that is human in their failings, and make mistakes, but the mistakes Leathers makes seemed redundant to me.
While I had some issues with this book, I think the author is a talented writer who has come up with a very interesting universe inhabited by not only zombies, but mysterious netherworld creatures. I will be curious to see what happens in the inevitable sequel to Acheron.
Acheron can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Acheron-Bryon-Morrigan/dp/1934861677/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1
Review of Peter Cline’s “Ex-Patriots”
Those who have read Ex-Heroes know the scoop from that first book. Peter Clines has created a world with his own flavor of superheroes, led by The Dragon (St. George), Zzzap, Stealth, and Cerberus, who reside in “The Mount”, a barricaded movie studio in L.A. They live there protecting the bulk of survivors in the city from Ex’s, aka zombies that have taken over the world. I felt that the author created a wonderful and highly detailed group of heroes and villains, using the writing technique of going back and forth in time, from ‘now’ to ‘then’ and back again, revealing only what the reader needs to know about each character-their origins, what brought them to where they are now, their motivations, etc.-until absolutely necessary to the plot. I loved the twists in the first book, which gave us a surprise ending I thought was quite a zinger. The heroes are unique, complex, and entertaining-there are no cookie-cutter duplicates of other heroes we already know and love.
Ex-Patriots introduces the military to the equation here in the second book. But not just the regular military, a group of super-soldiers created by a government scientist named Dr. Sorenson, who has turned them into physical specimens capable of great feats strength and speed. They are led by Captain Freedom (his actual real last name), though he isn’t draped in the American flag throughout the book. He is a physically massive soldier who is the strongest of the super-soldiers and also the most moral of the military men the reader is introduced to here. The military, huddled at a secret base in Arizona, makes the trek to the Mount after discovering the barricaded safe haven. Despite an introduction filled with missteps, the heroes agree to make the trip back to Arizona to discuss mutual survival plans with Colonel Shelly, the top army officer still alive, and Agent Smith, the only representative on hand representing the U.S. Government. Naturally, more conflict between the military and heroes occurs, with the military wanting the large, robotic Cerberus machine and official control over the Mount, claiming that Marshall Law is still in play. This despite serious questions as to whether the U.S. government even still exists, given that the ex’s seem to control most of the world.
New villains are revealed here, as well as new heroes, and the author does not disappoint with his efforts to provide fresh twists and turns to the plot, both with new characters and old. He uses the same format of ‘now’ and ‘then’ to divulge choice details, which leaves the reader guessing on particular details until the moment is just right. The action is on par with the first book, and the relationships between the different superheroes and the soldiers are solid. I particularly like the slow burn that is going on between St. George and Stealth-the two hero leaders who can’t seem to figure out what type of relationship they’re supposed to have.
Like the preceding book, this was a well written tale and it leaves plenty of room for more twists and mysteries in the final book in the trilogy. Villains that are complex and despicable, heroes that may seem indestructible yet are very much human in how they react and respond to the people and challenges they face…Mr. Clines has created a compelling world filled with fascinating characters. I look forward to seeing where it all leads.
Ex-Patriots can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Ex-Patriots-Peter-Clines/dp/1934861871/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321937132&sr=8-1
Review of Iain McKinnon’s “Remains of the Dead”
Remains of the Dead is the sequel to Iain McKinnon’s “Domain of the Dead” but in a way, it is its own stand alone story. I guess the term sequel doesn’t accurately describe this tale, since this story runs parallel to the first book. Both books start out the same way, with a group of survivors trapped years after the start of the zombie apocalypse inside a large warehouse that is filled with all the supplies they would need to survive. Unfortunately, they have burned through most of those supplies and only have a few months left before they will end up starving to death. A helicopter, stationed out at sea on one of the few surviving military ships, has come to the area where the warehouse is to collect an undead “sample” for the scientist on the ship to study. The people from the warehouse, upon hearing the helicopter, decide to make a run to the bird in an effort at escaping the hell they have lived through for several years and the reality that their time is running out.
The first book focuses on the survivors who climb aboard the helicopter as they return to the ship. Their story is one that examines the science behind the outbreak of the plague and the attempts to find a cure or inoculation against it. It also deals with a fresh outbreak of infection onboard the ship. This novel details the plight of those left behind: the people who couldn’t fit on the small helicopter and must figure out a way to survive until the chopper can return to rescue them. As the readers who have checked out the first book know, the estimated eight hour turnaround time they were hoping for is not quite what happens and the survivors will be forced to somehow make due for much longer than that.
The book is broken up into two storylines. The main story is of Cahz, the leader of the soldiers on the ground, Cannon, another soldier, Ryan, one of the survivors from the warehouse, Elspeth, an elderly survivor, and Ryan’s infant daughter, who happens to be Elspeth’s granddaughter. As we discovered in the first book, Elspeth has been bitten and the baby has been scratched, so it appears as if both will be dead from infection soon enough, which is why they chose to stay behind. The other storyline is that of Ali, another warehouse survivor who gets separated from the others in the throngs of undead trying to tear them to pieces on the race to the chopper, and is presumed dead. He manages to find his own route to escape and fights tooth and nail to survive and somehow figure out a way to reconnect with the others as the helicopter abandons them all with the hordes of undead nipping at their heels.
This was the story I wanted to read in tandem with the first story presented in book one of this presumed trilogy. I had been hoping to see the story rotate back and forth between the survivors on the ship and the survivors on the ground, but the author chose to split the stories up. I have to say that McKinnon turns the intensity up a notch in this, the second book in his series. The constant race against the undead, the desperate measures taken to survive at every turn, and the solid character development make this tale both a fun and invigorating read in the zombie genre.
I am looking forward to the third installment in this series, where I will presume the two sets of characters will be reunited and their saga will go forward as one story. While I suppose I still wish that the two stories would have rotated back and forth through the first and second books instead of being told separately, I have no complaints about the characters and the intense action the author delivers with his two books.
Remains of the Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Remains-Dead-Iain-McKinnon/dp/1618680048/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321572504&sr=1-2
Review of C. Dulaney’s “Roads Less Traveled: The Plan”
Roads Less Traveled: The Plan tells the story of Kasey, a young woman living in the mountains of West Virginia, and a group of students from Pennsylvania coping with the initial days of the zombie apocalypse. Kasey and Ben, one of the students, have been corresponding over the internet for years, though they’ve never met face to face. While there are no real details as to how they stumbled onto one another, it isn’t difficult to surmise that they connected via one message board or another that was discussing the best ways to survive a zombie apocalypse. This story is built for the zombie fan who has been prepared for the apocalypse, or at least talked about being prepared for it, for years. You see, Kasey and Ben had a plan set up for when things fell apart and the zombies rose up. Of course, it was all talk until the undead became a reality. Now they have to put their plan into action, which entails Ben making his way down to West Virginia to Kasey while she prepares her very remote home as a holdout against a world filled with the undead. Ben has some friends coming along with him-other students at the college he’s at, foremost among them being Jake, who is another zombie fan who apparently has a plan of his own. Begrudgingly, Kasey agrees to let them morph their plans together, and make the journey to Kasey’s home, fighting through minefields of the staggering undead shambling rampant through Pennsylvania and West Virginia. A large chunk of the story is taken up with the tale of Ben’s journey south, along with a side story of another friend of Kasey’s who lives in Washington DC…Mia and Kasey speak early on in the book over the phone, and they both assume Mia is as good as dead given the massive population where she lives. But the story of her attempt at survival was one of the more interesting parts of the book for me-exciting and heartbreaking at the same time.
As a zombie fan, I need to make it clear that this story does not break new ground. The zombies are traditional Romero zombies. As a zombie author, I have no problem with there being no new ground broken as far as the undead are concerned. There is plenty of un-life still left in a tale filled with the slow, dragging, moaning undead. The key is telling a story that has characters that are compelling and make you want to root for them…or hate them,. Either way, they have to keep you intrigued.
I felt that Kasey was a well fleshed out character. She is strong, prepared, and takes on a leadership role among this newly formed group of survivors with relative ease. My second favorite character had to be Nancy, who while playing a minor role just seemed appealing-she is Jake’s grandmother, and the strength she exhibits in this story is not all on the surface. Kasey may be the leader, but Nancy is the glue keeping the group together. I wasn’t as fond of Ben, who didn’t seem nearly as fully developed given his key role in the story. He and his new found girlfriend become background noise for the bulk of the story, with a few points where they stand out for short periods of time, at most. Jake is far more complex a character, and outshines Ben from the very beginning. He was sort of an anomaly in a lot of ways, making him a unique. He is diminutive in stature, but plays the role of a bad ass, a leader, but he defers with no complaint to Kasey, and he is a psycho, though only when necessary. I am not sure I particularly like Jake, though he grew on me as the story progressed.
The writing is solid in this book and I had no issues with it, though I do have to admit switching from first person (with Kasey) to third person, with everyone else, isn’t my favorite way to go. It isn’t a major complaint, though at one point in the story, the two styles were intermingled. Kasey is in a scene, and speaking in first person, and yet she is not right next to some of the other characters, but somehow, she is still narrating about them. Again, this is just a quibble. I just tend to prefer it when an author keep the perspective consistent throughout a story.
Roads Less Traveled: The Plan once again does not break new ground, and the plan, though mentioned early on, really has no elements to it that are different than most of the other survivor’s plans I have seen in other zompoc tales. It just is something that moves the story along, giving the characters a purpose for doing what they need to do. For me, the real key to this story is that the characters, in particular Kasey and Jake, are interesting, and emotionally they seemed real. There are no superheroes here, just normal people struggling to stay alive in the face of both the undead hordes and the very dangerous living that tend to create even worse problems for the main characters.
I look forward to checking out the next book in this trilogy-the author has me intrigued.
You can find Roads Less Traveled: The Plan here: http://www.amazon.com/Roads-Less-Traveled-Plan-1/dp/1934861995/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1321116527&sr=8-2
The Aussie Zombie reviews “The Dark Trilogy”
Good things come to those that wait. Or at least that is the cliche. Apparently that is true in the case of a review of The Dark Trilogy for The Aussie Zombie, who doesn’t like Cliffhangers. Of course, the first two of my books end on a cliffhanger note, so given that they had the chance to read the entire trilogy, plus the background stories that appear here on my blog, all at once, was a good thing. The review is quite detailed and I’m thrilled they enjoyed my little tale of zombie mayhem. Check it out here: http://theaussiezombie.blogspot.com/2011/11/dark-trilogy-by-patrick-dorazio-full.html
Oh and one more thing…my favorite line from the review: Are these books perfect? No – there’s no such thing (unless you are a Twilight fanatic *runs and hides*) That made me chuckle.
Review of Bryan Hall’s “Whispers from the Dark”
Whispers from the Dark is a compilation of author Bryan Hall’s short horror fiction. He is releasing his first novel length story, “Containment Room Seven” fairly soon, and so compiled this list of tales, several of which have appeared in other publications, as something of a pre-release. It is a good way to get to know the author’s style of writing before plunging into his novel. Most of these stories are bite-sized morsels of horror that are a just a few brief pages in length. They run the gamut from monstrous horror to more subtlety nuanced darkness, with each having at least a bit of flavoring from Mr. Hall’s roots in the mountains of North Carolina. Some of these stories, such as “Dirt Don’t Hurt” are like a rabbit punch to the gut, giving you a quick scare, while others are more fully fleshed out with characters that are well-defined despite the short amount of space on the page they take up. The author knows how to spin a yarn, and regardless of length, there was a nice building of tension with almost all of them. Mr. Hall doesn’t waste time trying to explain the supernatural horrors his characters are facing; they are just there, and it is a credit to his writing ability that I accepted them as such, and for the most part didn’t need more detail. Because that is the allure here: I was taken into these dark spaces and given just enough understanding to have the feeling of discomfort and ominous foreboding that we horror fans love.
The only story in this anthology that I had seen before, and what drew me to checking this out, was the longest tale of them all, and the one that perhaps had the least amount of supernatural potency to it. All the same, “The Swim” was the most frightening story in this book, leaving me shattered when I first read it. It is one of the finest horror short stories I’ve ever read. Bryan hits all the right notes in that one, and pulls the emotions out of its readers like a maestro.
There is a bonus excerpt of Bryan’s novel at the end of the book of his upcoming novel, which I look forward to checking out based on the what I have seen of his short story work. Check this out, and give his novel a shot as well, once it’s released.
Whispers from the Dark can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Whispers-From-The-Dark-ebook/dp/B005Q339DQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320360457&sr=8-1