The King of Clayfield introduces us to a man who is the curator of a small museum in the town of Clayfield, Kentucky the day the Canton B virus comes to town. The virus essentially fries the brain of people affected by it, turning them into what amounts to zombies. But unlike most zombie apocalypse tales, the author made this plague a bit more varied with the effects of infection. It is airborne, which means that if you are near someone who is infected you can also become infected regardless of bites. An odd way to combat the potential infection is by drinking alcohol. It seems to prevent the virus from taking hold of your brain if you get intoxicated. There are different stages to the infection, with those who die from it coming back and acting more like traditional zombies. Those who are initially infected behave like they are somewhat human, with sexual urges and established pecking orders-they are primitive and violent, but definitely not undead cannibals. Those who die behave more like the traditional undead we are more familiar with. Getting bit doesn’t seem to insure death, though it is uncertain whether anyone who dies, regardless of the cause, returns. It was certainly an interesting, a complex set of variables that the author introduces.
The story is told in first person and the narrator makes it clear how unprepared he is to survive during the course of the book. In fact, it is a running theme-from the first survivor he meets to everything he goes through, it is a reminder of how little those of us used to modern conveniences know about growing food, staying warm, getting water, hunting, and defending ourselves. He even jokes that he should collect someone who is Amish on a supply run so they can teach him how to function in a society without electricity and running water. The narrator meets up with several other survivors in his trek through his hometown and surrounding area, including a woman he went to high school with who becomes his closest companion as they face down challenges from both the living and the undead. They search houses, collect supplies, deal with other survivors both friend and foe, all as they are focused on sticking to Clayfield rather than trying to find another place deep in the countryside to hide out from the growing population of the infected and undead.
The characters, for the most part, seem believable. The main character comes across as somewhat passive at first and while he is forced to toughen up, he seems to acquiesce to the wishes of Jen, his newfound friend, for most of the story. Jen was not a very likable character. She is territorial and pushy, and the narrator seems to accept this as a matter of course, even when she does her best to push away Sara, a younger survivor who they find and that Jen perceives as a threat to her place in their small group. Jen is erratic and foolish at times, taking risks that are plain stupid.
The story is an easy read and again, the characters are believable-reacting in ways that are plausible given their dire circumstances. They were a mixed bag though, and no one leaving me with the urge to root for them. Some of the minor characters, like Brian, were interesting, but weren’t along for most of the ride. Jen is incredibly annoying, and how the main character responds to her more annoying still, but this isn’t to say it isn’t completely plausible. The author does an excellent job making them plausible characters, just not altogether likable. There are two sequels, so the main character, who ranges from timid to rash in his thinking and acting may become someone who I can root for in those novels.
The King of Clayfield can be found here: http://smile.amazon.com/King-Clayfield-Shane-Gregory-ebook/dp/B006I9GYZ2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1409105570
Mad Swine: Dead Winter does not pick up where Mad Swine: The Beginning left off. In fact, this sequel provides a review of the events that happen directly after the abrupt ending of the first book with a relatively quick synopsis by the main character more than a couple of months later. I stated in my review of the first book that it cut off abruptly with a cliff hanger ending that left me very curious as to what would happen next. Unfortunately, the focal point on this story does not start out with, or even focus on, the war between the neighborhoods, only its aftermath, which makes me puzzle over whether the author wrote about the battles that occurred and either he or someone in his circle of advisors suggested he cut it and focus on the long term survival of the community that the main character, Matt Danzig, is leading through the apocalypse. I would have liked to have read the story of the actual battle for Randall Oaks.
This criticism does not mean that the actual story that the author wrote here doesn’t have its own positive qualities. In and of itself, the tale told here is solid, and in fact some elements of this book work better than the first. The lack of ammunition and the desire to stay quiet and not draw the attention of the infected leave the survivors with more challenges and less ability to utilize the arsenal that the main character and narrator had at his disposal in MS:TB. This makes for a more pure and raw survival story of average suburban folks vs. more of an armed military camp scenario that there was a taste of in book one. Matt’s personal relationships are explored with more depth and there is a bit of romance thrown in as well for him after the trauma of losing his wife and children in the first book. He is, understandably, reluctant, but the sense that everything could fall apart at any minutes does pervade his and everyone else’s reality in Randall Oaks. The struggles with the bitter cold of winter and diminishing supplies are the main nemesis for the citizens of the community, with the infected playing a close second. The competing neighborhoods are no longer a factor in this tale, but the urgency to figure out how to make it to spring without freezing or starving is crucial. The infected, which were explained to not be the undead in the first book, continue to have all the traits of the undead in this one. Where they slept in the first book like regular humans, they seemed to have moved past that stage here, where the virus or plague has further transformed them. Another interesting and threatening aspect of their existence is revealed that seemed quite creative. The theory that the undead will freeze in bitter cold comes somewhat into play, with the undead going dormant in the cold, but even more interestingly, when they get buried under snow they will still become alert when a living human presence is nearby, which makes for some very interesting ambush scenarios.
Overall, I think the author’s story telling skills have grown with this sequel, though I can’t deny my disappointment that I was not treated to the battle of the neighborhoods that the first book appeared to promise was on the horizon. As a standalone, this tale definitely has its merits, and its focus on Matt more as a man struggling to lead people against nature and inhuman monsters is compelling, though it serves, like so many second books in a trilogy, as a transition between the sudden and abrupt actions of the first book and the potential threats that promise to inhabit the third book. The hope is that both the personal struggles that Matt suffers through in the second book and the heated action and excitement of the first book will join forces in book three for a very compelling conclusion.
Mad Swine: Dead Winter can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Mad-Swine-Dead-Winter-Volume/dp/1618680463/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1399223763&sr=8-1-fkmr0
Mad Swine: The Beginning is a first person zombie apocalypse tale that takes place during the initial days of infection and the downfall of civilization. It begins in the city of Chicago and the moves out into the suburbs where the main character, a University Administrator and former military man, takes charge of the people in his neighborhood to defend against both the infected and the living. The zombies in this tale are actually not the living dead, but more accurately infected/still living, though the author essentially turns them into zombies by applying the same rule as you have with undead: you can shoot them repeatedly, but unless you get them in the head, they won’t go down. There is an interesting slant in that they still sleep, which makes for some interesting situations when the characters come across a few snoozing undead.
The story moves at a fast clip, with very little build up before the introduction of panic and mayhem enters the main character’s life after he has reported to work one morning. The infected are fast movers, so the infection, which seems to come out of nowhere, spreads like wildfire and makes the first few chapters an adrenaline soaked nightmare for Matt, our main character. It doesn’t take long for the reality of this uprising to hit home with personal loss which carries over for him as he manages to make it back home to the suburbs. He discovers that several communities have banded together to protect one another from the “crazies”, as Matt has dubbed them, and given his military background he is called upon to take the lead in his own gated community. Matt comes prepared, with a veritable arsenal and a brother who lives with him who also has military experience. Together they take charge and plan for the well being and safety of their people. Mad Swine: The Beginning takes place within the first few days after the apocalypse. It reads fast and easy and while much of the zombie action takes place prior to Matt’s transition to suburban leader from urban refugee, the focus on human confrontations is a priority from then on. I enjoyed some of the confrontations that offer up hints as to what is to be expected in the next book of the saga, including the clashes between the different neighborhoods and how they are forced to deal with one another.
Overall, this was a fun, entertaining zombie read. It doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the table with the zombies or the setting, but the main character is solidly developed and his story made for an interesting ride. While the book cuts off abruptly, the closing chapters set the stage for some potentially interesting developments in the second book of this saga.
I do my best to point out any concerns I have with each story I read and as is the case with every book, there were things I took exception to with Mad Swine. My main concern here has to do with what I would dub the chaos and the calm. By the chaos, I mean that the infection happens so quickly and spreads with such vigor that the world falls apart entirely around Matt in what seems like minutes. Things are such a blur at first that there is virtually no appearance by either the police or military in this story. The city falls to pieces almost immediately and the crazies rule the streets within hours. And by the calm, I mean how dramatically different it is within the suburban conclaves where Matt and most of the other characters in this book live. Everyone there seems to be on the same page, willing to fall in line with the new regime that Matt creates without questioning it or anything for that matter. Certainly, there is conflict between different neighborhoods, but it is limited and (at least in this book) fairly civil, all things considered. The transition from the chaos of the first part of the book to the calm of the latter portion is abrupt and would have made more sense had the chaos Matt sees in the city bled over into the ‘burbs a bit more. While Matt, would seem like a natural choice as a leader for his neighborhood with his military experience and rather excessive arsenal, the fact that everyone within his gated community goes along with that decision without question or any who appears to be reluctant about such an idea seemed a stretch to me.
Despite this concern that I had with the story, it remains a solid, action filled apocalyptic saga with interesting characters and a storyline that has me intrigued and curious about what happens next. I look forward to checking out the next book in the series when it becomes available.
Mad Swine: The Beginning can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Mad-Swine-Beginning-Steven-Pajak/dp/1618680013/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1338266426&sr=1-1