Mists of the Dead, by Travis Adkins, takes the tradition of high adventure and adds a liberal helping of modern day zombie horror to bring something to the page that is both familiar and yet fascinatingly unique.
We are introduced to Warrel, a roguish charmer of a bard who has it made being the house balladeer in a tavern run by man of questionable means. Still, Warrel yearns for a life of adventure. His chance for something more occurs when Kogliastro, the most famous wizard in the world, decides to leave his fortress behind and venture out into the wide world once again. With a bit of finesse, Warrel is able to convince the magic user of his potential usefulness as a scribe on his journeys, and thus begins a saga that will take the old mage and young, impetuous bard (along with their dwarf warrior companion) to a strange new land filled with both mystery and the eponymous mist.
Being someone who grew up on Dungeons and Dragons, this tale has much that was familiar to me, from the magical items and spells the character’s use and discover, to the chosen professions of not only the three adventurers but others they meet in their travels. The world the author has created is filled with gods and monsters of his own creation as well as those taken from the pages of the manuals I devoured as a fanatical fantasy gamer in my youth. Adkins puts his own spin on the mix, in particular related to the gods of Erda, the world in which Warrel lives, and how his characters communicate. Warrel in particular uses an entertaining mix of the classic ‘ye olde’ common tongue and modern vernacular that put a smile on my face at is creativity.
While the story can be easily classified as traditional fantasy, Adkins does not forget his own history, which includes at least two traditional modern-day zombie apocalypse novels. The zombies our adventurers meet don’t share the traits of magically enchanted undead, raised up by dark priests and necromancers, but adhere in many ways to the zombies we are familiar with these days-those who die within the mists rise up and are compelled to devour the brains of the living.
Naturally, given my own life-long fascination with both fantasy adventure and the undead, I am probably a biased reviewer of this tale, but I must say that the characters are solidly fleshed out, as is the world(s) the author has created. If perhaps there is an area I would be critical of, it is the length of time it takes for Warrel to go from committing to leaving his home behind to travel with a famed wizard and actually doing it. While the detail the author commits to Allswell, the city that Warrel calls home, and the cast of characters he has relationships with is tremendous, it perhaps takes a bit too long for the real adventure to begin. With that said, for me, Mists of the Dead was both an exciting journey into the unknown and to places I am very familiar with and love returning too.
Mists of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XC5Q794
Life After: The Void carries the story of Jeff Grey and company forward about three months after the events of the first book, where the dead rose and he and several other people attending a high school band competition managed to turn the high school they were at into a barricaded fortress while the world outside goes to war with the undead.
Jeff remains bitter after the loss of his girlfriend and is dealing with a somewhat awkward burgeoning relationship with another friend, Mel, despite many awkward misgivings and some fairly contentious interactions. Jeff, along with his National Guardsman friend Anderson, and older survivor Rich are the leaders in their reasonably stable new community. They have provisions and routines to keep them safe, though the tension in the group is palpable. The undead, for the most part, have become background noise, slaughtered when they get close but thought of more in theory than reality. Except when, occasionally they overwhelm the survivor’s reality and become more of an immediate danger.
It is the humans outside that are the real threat, as they have always been and ever will be. Jeff has been grasping the fact that nothing will ever return to normal despite the seeming static routines of his new existence. This is compounded by the guilt and rage he feels at the loss of his brother and girlfriend, while his parents are a thousand miles away. The group makes their way outside the barricades they have built and have to deal with the living in a variety of ways, coping with marauders, the military, and rescue missions. Throughout these experiences, we see the world through Jeff’s eyes, though we know what those around him think of him. Jeff is a self-admitted asshole, bitter and more often than not itching to get in a fight, or at least a debate, or how best to survive and to live. The events he has to face and the tragic experiences he has had to cope with wage a constant war with his ability to keep it together. He is a trusted and relied upon member of his group, but at the same time he seems to have a contentious relationship with just about everyone who crosses his path. A teenager still, he is reluctantly being forced into the role of leader and does so often like a bull in a china shop.
My understanding is that there were a few short stories that the author wrote that take place between the first book of this series and this novel. I am sure they would have added to the depth of the story, but having not read them didn’t make me feel as though I was lost in any way when I started this book. This is definitely a sequel though, with the expectation that the reader already knows the main characters introduced in Life After: The Arising.
The action is a bit more tempered in this second entry of what I am guessing will be (at least) a trilogy, since the urgency of immediate survival in the hours and days that followed the first onslaught of the undead has subsided. The characters have settled into life where they still have electric power and plenty of supplies, but of course are trapped in both a world and a barricaded fortress that is somewhat claustrophobic. There are bursts of action in the book but much of the first half deals with the human dynamics of a group of people forced to unify and create a new existence with rules and routines that everyone can live with. The author focuses a good deal on the interpersonal relationships between Jeff and pretty much everyone else. His awkwardness with the children, annoyance with other leaders, and anger with just about anyone who confronts him are front and center. The action picks up as the story progresses, but Jeff’s battles with those around him as well as his inner demons continue throughout, especially when he is forced to confront some very hard truths about himself and his place in this new world.
Jeff is a hard character to like in many ways. He was in the first book and remains true to the personality the author created there in this book. Abrupt, gruff, itching for an argument, and perceived as a know it all, it takes more than being forced to take a leadership role in a desperate survival scenario to force him to grow up and come to grips with his failings. It is the life he must live, interacting with others in regular, routine daily activities versus coping with swinging a sword and blowing a zombie’s head off that are slowly chipping away at his desire to be contentious with just about everyone. Much like with the first book, I believe that whether the reader enjoys this tale will likely hinge on what they think of Jeff and appreciate the path he is on-whether it be to redemption or ruin. It is certainly an interesting path, regardless.
Life After: The Void can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Life-After-Void-Bryan-Way-ebook/dp/B01LX8ZPSQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1486918475&sr=8-2&keywords=bryan+way
Kings of the Dead came out six years ago, and as was quite popular at that time with zombie genre books, was written in a journal format. The popularity of that format has died down in recent years but with my attempts to read many of the books I failed to read in years past, I am reminded once again how many authors chose to go this route. I’ve shared the advantages and disadvantages of this format in prior reviews, and of course, this book is no exception. I do give credit where credit is due, of course. Author Tony Faville remains true to the format, not moving to a third person narrative at any point, which some authors tend to do when they feel the relentless need to reveal things the narrator doesn’t know and thus can’t share with the reader. To avoid this pitfall, Cole’s journal is written in by others when he is not available at certain points in time, which fills in those gaps in the story there would otherwise be if limited to his perspective alone. This adds a few interesting twists to the story as Cole himself reads these entries, left as notes for him upon his return to his journal. It serves as smoother tale because the author didn’t suddenly change writing styles, which I appreciated.
The story is fairly standard zompoc fare, told from the perspective of a man with former military and medical experience, who has prepared with a group of friends for the end of the world as we know it for several years as a hobby. Zombies crop up when the vaccine for a new strain of the flu ends up reanimating those who have taken it. The zombies are mainly the slow shamblers here, with a mix of faster undead joining the fray as the story and timeline moves forward.
This is a fairly personal story. Like some of the other journal written sagas, there is a good chunk of the author’s personality shining through the narrator. This is a story of someone who is a fan of the genre writing a story of survival they have envisioned for themselves and their friends. It does add something to the telling of the tell-a pseudo autobiography envisioned by the author were there a zombie apocalypse. Authors are guided to “write what you know” and Tony does so here, having the personal knowledge related to weaponry, medical skills, and other related topics that would have an impact on survival in an undead world. Credit to the author for not ‘over doing it’ as I have seen a tendency of some to do when it comes to slathering their pages with an excess of demonstrated expertise in a particular area that rapidly turns into overkill. The flow here is more natural and the while the reader will know the author knows his stuff, they won’t be blasted with it on every page.
While the survivors hunker down, attempting to build a new home in their region of Oregon for much of the first half of the book, the story becomes, in time, more of a road trip as Cole, the narrator, ponders the meaning of existence in a dead world and chooses to take a journey of discovery. Cole struggles with the loss of friends and trying to find a reason to carry on, but there are also glimmers of hope that give him, and the reader, reasons to carry on.
There are some rough spots in the story and some of that comes from the format-we don’t get to discovery something happening as it happens, but written as a report done the following day or in the hours following the actual event, which dilutes some of the emotional resonance. Still, there is definite emotional potency here, especially as related to the people Cole deeply cares for and will do anything to try and keep safe, which in the an undead world is a very difficult thing to do.
As is the case with many journal oriented zombie tales, there is not necessarily a main focus outside of survival written on its pages-survival of the body as well as the spirit. As such, it meanders a good bit, but the ending was quite satisfying and unlike many of the books of a similar make and model, the author doesn’t demand that you read three or four more entries in a series to make his point. This book does so succinctly and with quiet grace.
Overall, if as a zombie genre fan you aren’t burnt out on the diary approach to zombie fiction, Kings of the Dead is a solid addition to your library.
Kings of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Kings-Dead-Tony-Faville/dp/1934861839/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8
It has taken me far too long to read the first Zombie Fallout book by Mark Tufo. Tufo is one of the most prolific zombie writers out there, with nine books in this series plus spinoffs including a series of werewolf stories that take place many years after the zompoc. Naturally, I’ve heard of Tufo for years. This particular novel has nearly 1800 reviews on Amazon, which is a staggering number considering it was self-published.
This book has some similar characteristics to other notable books in this genre. It is in a journal format, though the author strays from sticking with the main character’s perspective for certain portions of the book. While this isn’t a major issue, it does point out the flaw in this type of storytelling-things the main character doesn’t know must be shared by other characters or in third person and it feels like a bit of a disruption when another voice jumps into for a chapter or two.
The prologue makes it clear the zombie apocalypse is about to get into full swing when a vaccination for a new strain of flu ends up bringing the dead back to life. From there we switch over to narrator Mike Talbot, ex-Marine and family man, while he is getting ready to take a shower in his house. This is interrupted when zombies show up on his front lawn and his family starts to freak out. Mike is sort of a prepper/gun nut who has been fascinated by the idea of zombies for a long time, but it’s clear he isn’t prepared for the sudden all-out assault taking place on his neighborhood and threatening his family’s existence.
Things move pretty fast from the get go, with rescue trips to save family members and friends while Mike and his neighbors work to barricade the walled-in neighborhood from impending doom. The story is, in many ways, pretty routine zompoc stuff, though the author throws a few curve balls into the mix. This includes the idea that these zombies perhaps aren’t undead, but infected and still with a spark of life, and more importantly, perhaps a spark of intelligence. There is also a hint of the supernatural, including a bit of prognostication and mental telepathy thrown in to give things a bit of mystery.
Overall, I can see why this series has been so popular. Tufo uses snarky humor and heavily descriptive verse to describe the gore, the smells, and the overall madness engulfing his character’s life. Despite some of the more odd things about Mike, he is, for the most part, just a family man trying his best to protect his loved ones in a time of ultimate danger-something very relatable.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t have some issues with the story or how it’s told. Many of my complaints have been pointed in other reviews. Though the story is fun and I’m intrigued as to how some of the more unique elements the author introduced here will be expanded upon in future volumes, I felt that many characters outside of Mike are somewhat one-dimensional. This is in part due to the fact that a diary format is somewhat limited in stepping away from the single perspective it showcases.
Women in particular are given short shrift in this book. Mike’s wife is somewhat of a stereotypical shrew who naturally is the only person on the planet he is afraid of, yet at the same time she appears to be helpless and lacking in common sense. Despite having lived with a prepper for many years, she has no idea how to even load a weapon. Neither does Mike’s daughter, for that matter, who, like her mama, has a mean temper and a stubborn streak a mile long. Another woman who agrees to go a supply run outside the safety of the walls of Mike’s neighborhood does nothing more than cower in the truck while everyone else takes care of business. All I could remember about the wife of Mike’s best friend was that she was a lousy shot-there is little else shared about her.
Mike is a funny character and his internal monologues and flashbacks are sometimes very amusing as he tries to make light of a desperate situation. At other times his perspective is best described as a bit…off. Comparing the horror of possibly being forced to shoot a loved one who has been attacked by a zombie to the more meager fear of speaking in public for the first seemed somewhat dismissive. The obsession Mike has with his Jeep Wrangler and not using this durable off-road vehicle during the zombie apocalypse because it might get scratched plus having his family be fearful of his wrath if they use it even under desperate circumstances seemed a bit lacking in focus. Mike would do anything for his family, and that comes across on almost every page, but there are occasional lapses in perspective like those above that seem a bit disjointed given the situation.
Despite the criticism I have, the book is fun and certainly does a good job of paving the way for future installments. Without leaving things on a cliffhanger note, there is enough mystery hinted at to keep a reader guessing and wanting to know what is next-in particular related to the supernatural elements of this tale.
Zombie Fallout can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Fallout-Mark-Tufo-ebook/dp/B003A022YO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473094523&sr=8-1
Holiday of the Dead is a rather sizable volume of zombie short stories that mostly stick to the theme of being on holiday, though a few seemed to stretch that concept a bit. For us Yanks, a holiday means a day of festivities, while with the Brits it is what we call a vacation. There is a pretty healthy mix of both types of tales to be found here. It isn’t just a mix, but a mixed bag, with a few stories forgotten as soon as I finished them. Fortunately, quite a few others were memorable and demonstrated the author’s ability to have some fun with the theme and with zombie fiction in general. When you have a book filled with nearly forty short stories, things are going pretty well when you come away feeling that at least thirty were worth the price of admission.
Often I try to provide a mini-review of each story in an anthology, but not with a tome this size. There are far too many to recount in detail. Suffice it to say, you will get an assortment of traditional and inspired here. There are some very recognizable names in the table of contents, well know writers of zombie and horror fiction, including Iain Mckinnon, Eric Dimbleby, Tonia Brown, David Dunwoody, Eric Brown, William Meikle, Joe McKinney, and Wayne Simmons. A couple of special guests, John Russo and Tony Burgess, add tales of their own at the end of the book.
Perhaps Holiday of the Dead could have been pared down a bit, but overall it was an entertaining read with only a few minor speed bumps. The most inventive tales should more than make up for any issues you may have with the handful that don’t resonate. Stories like Change Is As Good As Rest, Naked Fear, Daddy Dearest, Home Is The Sailor, Home From The Sea, Burj, The Day The Music Died, Where Moth And Rust Destroy, and Crossover kept things popping, though quite a few others were just as fun to dive into.
Solidly entertaining zombie shorts with a few misfires, but more than enough undead goodness between its pages.
Holiday of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Dead-John-Russo-ebook/dp/B004XJ7HZK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=#navbar
It has been several years since I read the two prior entries in this trilogy of zombie books, so Dying To Live: Last Rites gave me some vague recollections of the four main characters reintroduced here when I started reading this one, but fortunately, this book in many ways is a standalone novel, separate from the other two books with the story it tells.
Two characters, Will and Rachel, are living, while Truman and Lucy are zombies who have worked to retain and regain elements of who they were in life-they can speak and interact with humans. Most importantly, they can refrain from giving in to their base urges to kill and devour the living. Truman more so than Lucy, who still loves to kill and revels in its purity, believing that most humans are selfish, despicable creatures, although she more or less tolerates and even respects Will and Rachel, especially due to the relationship they have with Truman.
The four have been banished from the community they lived in and have been traveling by boat on rivers in the wilderness the world has become. Rachel grows deathly ill and they find another community called New Sparta near the water that can help her, but only under certain conditions. The zombies are to be sold off and Will and Rachel will have to pay for the care she receives and the housing and food they will need. They’ve stumbled into a much more complicated, larger, and more “civilized” society than the one they are used to, with many of the perks of our modern world having returned including electricity, credit, regular jobs, etc. Of course, their objective initially is to get their two undead friends back to safety, but a myriad of distractions and enticements create some challenges for the two of them, while things are far worse for Truman and Lucy.
Once again, the author has created some interesting dilemmas like those that ran through his first two books in this trilogy. Dilemmas based on what it means to be human and also retaining what we call humanity, regardless of who, or what, you actually are-living or undead. It’s clear that the two sentient zombie main characters see humans as selfish and self-destructive beings, even those they care for. Many are far worse than Rachel and Will, but it seems as if this internal focus is ingrained in the living, almost by necessity, to keep the fragile spark of life alight. The undead, including the other zombies the two meet while enslaved in New Sparta, are not subject to this selfishness, or so they believe. But with sentience comes certain needs and desires, even if biological urges have been almost all eliminated. Love, connections to others, and an urge to understand their existence still remains, plus the desire to devour the living still remains…and in most there is no remorse for them either, especially since all memories of what the undead were before they passed on are gone.
Dying To Live: Last Rites may be the third book in Kim Paffenroth’s trilogy, but in many ways it stands on its own as its own examination of life, compassion, and self-sacrifice. The author has expanded the amount of the sentient zombies from beyond the first two books substantially and that may be a turnoff for some readers who are looking for zombies to mostly remain dim cannibal monsters. If this were a pure action/horror type trilogy the author could take things in some interesting, Planet of the Apes-type directions with the undead past this story, but these books have always been much more about the examination of the differences between being human and being humane. Those who have enjoyed the first two novels will likely enjoy this one as well.
Dying To Live: Last Rites can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Dying-Live-Rites-Kim-Paffenroth-ebook/dp/B004T334A2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1466867283&sr=8-3
Children of God by Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon is an unexpected surprise from these two horror writers. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever read something quite like this, even though I’ve read quite a bit of poetry. This is a book that shares the tales of tragedy lived through by ten survivors, most of who can only do so through the poems they craft years after the events that destroyed the lives of everyone they knew and with whom they shared a slavish faith.
Going in, we know that the Family of God cult, led by David Prince, came to a horrific end via a mass suicide and bloody massacre on August 17, 2008, when well over three hundred members holed up in their mountain compound died with barely thirty surviving. Years later, as a form of therapy, a psychiatrist suggests the survivors write poetry as a way to express themselves. This book shares what theses ten survivors who chose to offer up their words had to say.
How the two authors craft an overarching vision of what led up to that day of tragedy, through it, and beyond is haunting, vivid, and gut-wrenching. This diverse group of poets includes children, a former prostitute, seminary student, an elderly woman abandoned by her biological family before joining the cult, a mentally impaired man, an organist, gangbanger, war veteran suffering from PTSD, and a young man who lost his immigrant parents in an accident years before joining the Children of God. Their poetry speaks of sacrifice, devotion, desires for a better world, regret, and a heavenly reward beyond this realm promised but never realized.
A story takes shape through their words and despite being a fairly short book, it paints a vivid picture of what takes place, especially on THE day where the cult comes to its brutal and horrible end. It’s easy to say that such slavish devotion to a charismatic leader is misplaced and to convince yourself that you could never fall for such lunacy, but all one has to do is to take a look at the world at large to see how desperate so many of us are, and how willing so many are to believe in false prophets and leaders who promise extreme and distorted visions of a better world. Which makes this book of poetry all the more poignant.
Children of God can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Children-God-Dreams-Nightmares-Family-ebook/dp/B01ENXYWU8?ie=UTF8&qid=&ref_=tmm_kin_swatch_0&sr=