Writer of Horror Fiction

Archive for February, 2014

Review of Thom Brannan’s “Lords of Night”

Lords of Night gets right to the heart of the story by introducing us to the main character Jack and his band of protectors, with their assortment of colorful nicknames, smack dab in the middle of their journey into the barren wastelands of what was once the eastern seaboard of the United States.   They are somewhere between New York City and Washington D.C. when the story starts off, on mission to save the human race.  Besides Jack, there is Five Oh, Dusty, Sandman, Rook, Zero, and the Ranger, who are all highly skilled ex-military men (except for the Ranger, who has his own unique set of skills).  Much of the story is told in flashbacks, giving us a history of each of the secondary characters in their own words and how they dealt with the day the dead rose up and the world changed forever.  Jack’s story, on the other hand, is told through the journal entries he makes during their trip, giving the reader both his back story and an understanding of why he is so special and critical to the survival of the human race.

While this book could be categorized as zombie apocalyptic fiction, the zombies here are very much secondary-little more than a nuisance controlled by far more powerful creatures.  The author introduces the reader to the locust people-humans transformed into malicious monsters who serve their masters, the aforementioned Lords of Night.  There are seven of these powerful fiends who serve the ancient enemy which came to earth from the stars long ago.  They have re-awoken their master and Jack was a witness to its rebirth.  The teenager has special talents that seemingly escaped the notice of the ancient enemy’s minions at first, but have since grown and have drawn them to him.  While he doesn’t understand much of his role in things, he knows that within him is the potential key to stopping an enemy to mankind that is older than time itself which has plans for humanity that are far worse than complete annihilation. 

Lords of Night moves at a rapid clip through the mission Jack needs to accomplish and the assortment of characters surrounding him are an interesting bunch, especially the Ranger and Zero.  Zero is a cocky, lazy, talented marine recon sniper who (as the author aptly points out) is reminiscent of Hudson from the movie Aliens with his snarky ways and can’t-do attitude, as well as his ability to come through when absolutely necessary.  The Ranger, another larger than life character, might be insane but in the best way possible given the perils Jack and the rest of the team face.  His talented shooting ability and fearless loyalty in the face of all odds make him perhaps the most appealing character in the book.  While these two steal the show, all six of Jack’s guardians are interesting, in fact far more so than Jack.  The teen is likable and his story is compelling, but he is far less fun to read about than his companions. 

The story is, turn by turn, more creative than most and gives the reader a unique spin on the typical apocalyptic horror novel.  Again, the zombies found on these pages are secondary-the true menaces are the locust people and their masters, who have an evil intelligence and maliciousness that challenge Jack and his crew every step of the way.  The history and ongoing saga of the ancient enemy gets almost a bit too complicated at times, including the nuances of the part Jack is to play, though it all becomes clear in the end.  Twisty as it is, the story is sewn up quite effectively before the last page is turned. 

Fans of apocalyptic fiction that are receptive to authors taking creative license on the traditional should enjoy Lords of Night.  The main characters are well developed and the backstory is complex.  The author perhaps is a bit over-protective of his characters-it takes quite a bit to send them to their demise, though that is in some ways a forgivable offense considering how entertaining they are as a team.  That and the sometime slow pace found earlier in the story are my two main (and minor complaints) in what is otherwise a rollicking adventure tale.     

Lords of Night can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Lords-Night-Thom-Brannan/dp/1618680307/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1393486184&sr=8-1

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Review of D.S. Sager’s “Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings”

Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings is an apocalyptic origin tale that introduces the reader to a scientist bent on trying to give his terminally ill wife a new lease on life.  When the lab he works for threatens to shut down and ruin his work, he decides that he will share his ‘Blue Gem Serum’ with his home town in Northern California.  The serum allows for the genetic mutation of any life form it comes into contact with, making it stronger, more adaptable, and more intelligent and vicious.  When the scientists dumps it into the local water supply, the crab population immediately undergoes a dramatic genetic transformation, turning them into a hybrid that looks like a cross between its predecessor and a scorpion, complete with a lethal sting that transforms its human victims into the living dead.  The monsters become land dominant and start attacking the people in the town of Tylerton soon after.

The duel threat of the scrabions (as they are later dubbed) and the undead unleash an assault that is viewed through the eyes of multiple characters, some of which meet a very unfortunate end rather gruesomely and others who manage to survive the first waves of assault.  This story takes place over a period of a day or so, with the town caught in the crossfire of an army of constantly adapting and cunning genetic mutations and its own transformed population of the living dead.

While the tale of how patient zero is exposed to whatever the cause of its own un-death is one that has been done before, it is far rarer to include another threat that is ends up being far greater danger to humanity than the undead.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to describe this novel as a zombie apocalypse story, since it is in fact more of a genetic horror/sci-fi tale that happens to have zombies in it.  The scrabions take over as the primary danger-the one that the military personnel trying to quarantine Tylerton struggle to deal with and that the CDC is hard pressed to find a way to stop or destroy.  That this is the driving force behind this story might irritate any zombie purists out there, but the mixture of the two monsters is well done.

The ensemble cast caught inside Tylerton as it is torn apart is a mixed bunch, as is usually the case when an author introduces the reader to a platoon of characters.  It was hard to keep track of all of them at first, at least until they started grouping up.  With nearly five hundred pages to work with, the author doesn’t shirk at character development, though it slowed the pacing a bit at first.  It took a bit for the momentum to build, but by the time I was a third of the way into the novel it had become one of those hard to put down thrill rides.  The reader is provided with ample background on both those characters facing the threat of the undead and scrabions as well as the military leaders and members of the CDC trying to understand and contain the menace that has conquered Tylerton.  Some characters were naturally more compelling than others, while a select few were downright annoying.  It is tough to juggle so many different actors crossing the stage with their stories being interwoven in bits and pieces until they join forces and their stories coalesce.  In the end, the author does a relatively solid job of herding them all in the right direction.

The depth of detail (on the genetic mutations, the town, and the characters) the author provides in this novel is both its blessing and its curse.  While it may seem like a stretch that a genetically mutated crab’s bite causes zombism, the science and the scrabions ability to adapt to its environment and perceived threats are intriguing and the implications terrifying; not only for this story, but for our innate fear of such dabbling by modern science.  What sort of horrors will geneticists create in the name of progress?  Unfortunately, the zombies are left to suffer in many ways-they seem only a moderate threat when compared to the scrabions, who continue to adapt to any form of attack unleashed on them-making themselves stronger and resistant to things like fire and other forms of assault.  They are cunning, work like a colony of ants to go after their objectives, and seem for all intents and purposes unstoppable.  Never would I have thought that a cross between a crab and scorpion could be this scary.

The story is solid with some entertaining twists and turns.  The characters, for the most part, are believable and diverse.  Providing the viewpoint of the General in charge of maintaining the battle lines around Tylerton was an added bonus that gave a unique perspective.  In many ways, his story was more intriguing and impactful than that of the survivors, and will lead to some compelling storylines in the sequel.  The duel threat of genetic mutations and the undead gives this book its own flavor that sets it apart from the pack.

Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings can be found here:      http://www.amazon.com/Evil-Vein-Dark-Beginnings-Volume/dp/1618681869/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1391730659&sr=8-1