Saint Pain wraps up the Zombie Ascension trilogy by Vincenzo Bilof. The saga is complete, though some of the story threads remain loose, or a bit frayed, by the end of the tale. Digesting it still, I’m not sure if that left me frustrated or content with how the author chose to close things out. Doors are potentially left open for more, though whether they should be shut for good or not is debatable.
The book starts a full year past where Queen of The Dead left off. Vega and Vincent are set up in a neighborhood with an old cop who doesn’t trust the ex-drug dealer. There are quite a few people with them, including Father Joe and an ex-pro football player named Bill. There are rumors of Vincent’s guns still hidden somewhere in the city (though he is not sharing any info) and stories of others in Detroit trading women and children for food and other supplies. While the living have been active, the undead seem to have become lethargic. Still, the harsh existence everyone faces has them questioning whether or not it is worth continuing to fight to survive. In the meantime, Jim Traverse has returned to Detroit, apparently to finish the annihilation of the human race that he started a year before.
When the undead rise back up due to some sort of unknown force driving them to kill once again, everything is stirred up and those that are alive are forced to choose whether to fight or give up. Vega wants another shot at Traverse while Vincent seems to be unsure of whether or not he wants to let go or to continue battling with Vega at his side. Only Bill, the football player, seems willing to fight to the bitter end and save whoever he can, regardless of the consequences. The reason why he is compelled to do so was one of the more poignant elements of this book, once revealed.
With all its supernatural elements and almost surreal quality to this story, where the author brings things home is when the humanity of his characters is revealed and/or demolished. The madness of some, the despair of others, and the resignation of those who know they are about to die but are still willing to fight…plus those who have already died and yet still fight on for some sort of redemption. These components to the story drew me in and kept me intrigued. The supernatural components of this story gives it a unique kink that will entertain those who crave something beyond the traditional zombie tale. There are layers of manipulation and control…by both the living and the dead…over the undead and those who have power over them. It is a twisty pretzel the author has created here and I am not ashamed to admit I was a bit confused in a few spots as to who was manipulating who.
With its heavy dose of introspection, this book did have a few parts that dragged a bit. Vega and Jim Traverse have always been interesting characters to me, with Vincent less so. His melancholia didn’t keep me intrigued every step of the way. I did enjoy the introduction of Bill, who seems like a character who you could root for despite his flaws. He seems the only person capable of holding on to some semblance of hope even when that seems pointless.
Saint Pain is a fitting ending to Vincenzo Bilof’s unique zombie trilogy. Though some of the characters are frustrating and despicable at turns, they were vividly drawn and draw you into their story, despite how dark, dank, and depressing it all becomes.
Billy and the Clonesaurus tells the tale of William 790-6, a clone who lives in a town filled with other William clones, in a world filled with even more William clones. As with every other William clone, he is to be slurried, or decommissioned, on his first birthday, and replaced by the next iteration. When an accident happens at the slurrying plant with William 789 and 790 is given another day to live, he spends it with his replacement and starts to resent the idea of his imminent departure. Happenstance allows him to once again escape being decommissioned when his new iteration is tossed into the ‘whirling blades of death’ that are used to slurry clones instead of him and he is free to live for another year. But Will, as he and every other clone call each other, finds himself a bit more curious than the average Will about the world surrounding him and the reasons every other Will does what they do for the corporation that controls everything. 790 sells dental insurance, and every other Will does everything necessary to make life possible for everyone else in town. There are Wills who pick up the trash, there are Wills who run the gas stations, etc. They hang out in their off hours drinking the same beer in the same pubs, watching the same Rugby games every weekend. They are all the same level of docile worker doing whatever needs to be done to make the company profitable, and they have no reason to question why there are no animals and no one else left on the planet but other Wills, like themselves. But 790 is starting to get curious, and after hearing another Will talk about a delivery run to another town and spotting something off in the distance on the side of the road that looks like a windmill, he feels the urge to check out this anomaly and see what is going on beyond his guarded, safe existence. This leads 790 on a journey of self-discovery-learning why clones exist, why it appears that the exact same events are reported on at the same time every year, and what might have come before they came into existence.
Billy and the Clonesaurus is a dark comedy that tasted a bit like the movie Brazil in its own demented way. It is grim future that 790 lives in, and as William 790 starts to call himself Billy as a form of minor rebellion against the status quo, he begins to realize the depths of the mystery surrounding him and the rest of the Wills of the world, or so he believes. Escaping the town he lives in is only the beginning. Beyond that, he has several shocking revelations and dreams of something better…something approaching freedom, not only for himself, but for every other William.
While it may be hard not to laugh at the idea of such an obscene world, the thoughts of something like this occurring are also cringe-worthy and provide for good nightmare fuel. As more layers of the deceit that have been heaped on 790 and the rest of the clones are peeled back, there are plenty of reasons to feel both revulsion and depression, because while the world that Billy lives in is filled with clones, the depths of the depravity he faces is very much a human characteristic.
I’ve read the authors other works, both of which dealt with the undead. While this story shares little with those other books, it has the same razor sharp edges to it that don’t show very much remorse when you get cut by them. This is a trip into the Twilight Zone with a nod to the Simpsons with the story’s title. It’s probably not a tale easily digested by everyone, but one worth checking out if you like your futures grim, dark, and yet surreal and just a tad bit looney.
Billy and the Clonesaurus can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Billy-And-Cloneasaurus-Stephen-Kozeniewski/dp/192504789X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
The Ghoul Archipelago is a story that jumps around a bit at first, giving the reader the impression that the story is speeding ahead through time with each new batch of characters introduced. It does take a bit of reading before we get to see how all these loose strands the author is introducing weave together. The vast majority of the story takes place in the South Pacific in the first few weeks and months after the rise of the undead. We are introduced to an assortment of characters whose stories will intersect in time, and who are coming to grips with the end of the world in their own various ways.
Reverend Sonntag, leader of a group of missionaries, sees the rising of the dead as a sort of second coming-the transition to the next world, with the undead as something we should either worship or have the desire to become. Rand Bergeron, a billionaire behind an extremely successful virtual reality sex device, sees business opportunities to be developed with the few select societies in the South Pacific that haven’t been annihilated by the undead. “Howling Mad” Martigan and his crew of smugglers are simply trying to survive the pirates who’ve found a way to use the undead to their own advantage while at the same time getting their cargo to the ruthless gangster who they are sure has survived the end of the world and who will destroy them if he doesn’t get what he is promised. Surviving members of the U.S. Navy and Marines, led by a power hungry politician who claims he is now the President of what remains of the United States, have their own designs on taking over the region where the story takes place.
The reader is given bits and pieces of the various character’s tales at first until their paths begin to intersect. There is no main character here. Instead, it is a rather large ensemble with a few key players who the author does a strong job of developing into anti-heroes and villains. Sonntag’s zealotry, Bergeron’s greed, and the military’s quest for control and order clash significantly with Martigan and his crew of quarrelsome crewmembers and a stowaway with an intriguing side story. Outside of a few members of Martigan’s crew and a hard luck survivor who goes by the name of Tuan Jim, many of the characters here aren’t very likable and it is hard to say that anyone is a real hero, though the crew of smugglers, who go from one living or undead mishap to the next, grow on the reader as they suffer through one unbearable travail after another. In particular, Butch, the stowaway, and Hannibal Mo, the chief engineer, are the characters who I found myself rooting for the most.
This is a well told tale despite its slow start, with some unique game changers for the zombie sub-genre. Bergeron’s experimental approach when it comes to utilizing his virtual reality technology with the undead is something that everyone seems to want to take advantage of, in ways both repulsive and terrifying. The undead are, on the surface, fairly traditional, though with the advent of this new technology, they are taken in some very new and disconcerting directions by the author.
Overall, a very solid entry into the zombie genre, with enough twists and new ideas to keep those who are looking for a new perspective on the classics to have fun with the story. The characters drive this one, and there are some good ones with some crackling dialog. A standalone novel, The Ghoul Archipelago is worth checking out for fans of adventure, horror, and of course, the undead.
The Ghoul Archipelago can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/THE-GHOUL-ARCHIPELAGO-Zombie-Novel-ebook/dp/B00FTP5URO/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
The Queen of the Dead: Zombie Ascension picks up where Necropolis Now, the first book in the series, left off. The various surviving characters are trapped in Detroit and are mostly making their way to a local military air base after the events that unfolded at the mental institution at the end of the last book. The core players remain in the tale, but the author, much like he did in the first book, adds a few secondary characters who play a variety of roles that intertwine with the main cast. Vega, the female mercenary whose job in the first book was to capture Jim Traverse, a serial killer with a plan to end the world, remains focused on her task, though it seems that her reasoning is less about finishing the job and more about doing what both comes naturally to her and is all she knows: being a soldier for hire. Especially since there is little else to do in a world that is dead or dying all around her. Vincent, the gang banger from the first book, gives her a reason to carry on. They share similarities as characters-both are professionals who do what it takes to survive and to get the job done in their own ways. They both have regrets and far too many scars to mention. Griggs, the ex-cop and pornographer, seems to be enjoying the apocalypse and much like Traverse, has plans for Mina, his girlfriend who is likely the cause for the zombie apocalypse due to her cannibalistic tendencies and mysterious, supernatural past.
Several new characters enter the fray to varying extents. Father Joe is a priest trying to save who he can while strangely being capable of not raising the interest of the undead around him. Rose is an assassin who has been sent in after Traverse, even though her talents lean more toward seduction versus combat. Jack is a poor schlep who plays in a band with his brother, who wants to see the world burn and has commanded Jack to join him in slaughtering as many people and zombies as possible before they both get torn to pieces. There are a few other secondary characters, each with their own unique story to tell. The author develops each of them enough to give us something to latch on to, though some fade into non-existence with little to show for having existed in the first place.
This is a supernatural thriller, or as close to that as possible without being obvious. It isn’t your traditional zombie apocalypse tale though there are elements it shares with those stories. The motivation of many, if not most of these characters, is not survival. It is annihilation for some-the destruction of the human race as a goal. For others, it seems that perpetual motion is their only goal-moving forward because it is all they can do while the world around them spins out of control. Through the power Mina has as some sort of herald of doom makes her a monster, she is also as innocent as a child, manipulated by the men in her life. Both Traverse and Griggs see her as a way to obliterate everything in their paths, though they have very different designs on why they would do that.
Vincenzo Bilof has a lyrical way of writing about gore and his characters. Certainly, there is no doubt that not everyone will like his penchant for simile and metaphor at most every turn, but there is a fluidity to his writing that makes this dark, dim, gruesome world he has crafted poetic. His story, though it will come to a conclusion (more than likely) with the third and final book, isn’t about a beginning or an end. It is definitely about the journey. The zombies are there, in the background, entering the fray as needed, but it is the characters, with their internal and external struggles, that always remain top of mind here. This could be a journey through hell, like Dante’s Inferno-one test after another for the main characters to face and either overcome or to fail at…though it is hard at times (many times) to decipher whether they have failed or succeeded at any of them. Perhaps Father Joe could be defined as a hero, though one with as many dark spots on his soul as many others in the book. Beyond him, there are heroic elements in several of the characters but villainous ones as well. I remarked in my review of the first book that I didn’t like most of the characters-not as a criticism but an assessment of who they were as human beings. I have grown more attached to a couple of the original characters and dislike some with an even more fervent passion. At the same time, I welcomed most of the new characters with an appreciation for what they have added to this story. Except perhaps for the insane general, who was, overall, a nuisance in my humble opinion. The rest have given the story new flavor and balance to offset the grim motivations of some of the others.
The Zombie Ascension series qualifies as a fairly unique entry into the zompoc subgenre despite not meddling too much with the undead themselves. Its supernatural slant will not appeal to all zombie purists though it is, thus far, a well thought out mythology that has me intrigued for more answers as to the ‘why’s and how’s’ of Mina’s power and what happened to Traverse on his mission to Egypt. This is the third book of the author’s that I have read and his voice has grown stronger with each book. He has me hooked with both his writing style and the story he is telling here and I look forward to checking out the third book in the trilogy.
The Queen of the Dead: Zombie Ascension can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Queen-Dead-ZOMBIE-ASCENSION-ebook/dp/B00ET0EJJK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385424667&sr=8-1&keywords=vincenzo+bilof
The Old One takes place in the sleepy little town of Top Sail Beach on an island off the coast of North Carolina. Like most little towns, it has its share of secrets and skeletons in the closet. Unfortunately, one particular bit of darkness from its past has chosen to rise up out of the sea to wreak unholy havoc on the little burg.
We are first introduced to one elderly resident of the town who is out fishing one night while lamenting the passing of his wife when he gets a nibble on his line and either falls into the ocean or perhaps is yanked in and nearly drowns. Miraculously saved by his neighbor who was passing by the pier his small boat was tied to, he awakens the next day not quite himself. Something evil is inside him and it isn’t satisfied with possessing just him-it wants much more.
The Old One is a Lovecraft inspired tale that mixes Cthulhu mythology with a new take on the living dead, with interesting results. The main character is Max, a transplant to Topsail Beach who has become content living in the isolated little community despite knowing he’ll never be considered a local by many of the residents. He lives with Hanna, his wife, and has a job as a mechanic at one of the local shops. Shortly after we are introduced to Max his world is turned upside down when he and Hanna are attacked by his neighbors who are maimed and appear to be dead. As unbelievable as that seems, it isn’t the worst of it. When he is forced to destroy one of his attackers, vile squid-like creatures burst forth from the ghoul’s stomach and begin the hunt for new flesh to latch on to.
This story is a whirlwind of blood, guts, and nightmarish creatures that get worse at every turn. At first, Max can’t comprehend what is happening, but as the night wears on and the lashing storm that has engulfed the island grows stronger, more hints as to what is really happening reveal themselves. There is something far worse at work here than a plague of foul leaches turning humans into cannibalistic puppets. Because there is something those creatures call mother and it has also risen from the dark depths of the ocean, a true horror to behold.
The Old One is fun and interesting take on the Cthulhu mythos-sort of a side-story to the mythology about a single dark and almost forgotten god whose true purpose is cloaked in mystery. The author’s enthusiasm for Lovecraftian horror shines through on each page and while this story is not perfect, his exuberance makes up for the fact that it felt like there were a few gaps in the story, or more specifically, the back story. The yearning to learn more about what came before and what causes the Old One to rise up from the sea remains in me well after reading this tale, but perhaps is how it is meant to be. The story could use another pass to clean up some of the typos left behind, but overall the writing is sharp and Mr. Douglas continues to impress with the creativity in each of his new tales. Despite the length of this book, it has the feel of a short story that reads like a surprising slap across the face that leaves you a bit stunned and disconcerted about what just happened…which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to horror.
The Old One can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E3LZY44/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension Book One starts out introducing us to Bob, a mercenary for hire who is looking for a serial killer named Traverse, a former Special Forces operative. Traverse is wanted alive despite the gruesome crimes he’s committed over many years of being on the run. When he finds Traverse, the madman speaks of a gate being open that will cause the end of the world. Captured, he is committed to an insane asylum in Detroit.
Three years later, Bob is called upon again, this time with two of his best mercenaries-Miles and Vega- in tow. He has to capture Traverse again, pulling him out of the same insane asylum he was put in for his crimes. The only problem: Detroit is in the throws of a brutal riot, with the city tearing itself apart piece by piece. It is fast becoming clear that this is not your normal riot because the rioters are eating one another.
The story follows Bob’s mission, but also introduces the reader to several other citizens of Detroit who are coming to grips with the situation they’ve found themselves in, including a lawyer, his drug-addled brother, a gang banger, an ex-cop pornographer and his former girlfriend, and a porn starlet currently residing in the same insane asylum as Traverse because she has a penchant for cannibalism.
While Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension does share similarities with many other tales focused on the initial hours and days that the dead rise, with plenty of panic, gore, and horrific frights, it is how the dead rise and the characters that inhabit this story that make it unique. Detroit has a reputation for being a rough city and it makes for a gritty urban setting for this story. The ensemble cast is headed up by Vega, the female mercenary, Traverse, an insane prophet and murderous madman, and Griggs, the ex-cop who wants to keep on making porn movies while the world unravels around him. This is a very interesting story with Traverse and Mina meeting up at the asylum on the day the undead rise taking center stage. Mina is Griggs former girlfriend and star of his porn movies, at least until she ate the last actor she worked with. Traverse has plans for Mina, and knows that she is more than just another run of the mill psychopath.
The pacing is fast and the action steady in this tale, while the characters are a mixed bag of oddities. They definitely kept me guessing from start to finish, with some of the deaths being rather surprising, and their actions even being more surprising. It’s hard to argue about realism when the characters are so strange and different than the norm.
There is a bigger picture here. The rise of the dead is not through the traditional means readers of zombie fiction are used to, and it is clear by the title that the author intends to reveal all that is kept secret in this book over the course of a likely trilogy.
The author took on a sizable cast of characters and did an admirable job of allowing the reader to see the world through many of their eyes. The characters of Traverse, Vega, and Griggs were intriguing to me. Some of the other characters, such as the lawyer and junkie who were brothers, didn’t resonate. The author makes a game effort to give their story emotional heft, but their story felt hollow to me. And while I didn’t necessarily like most of the characters in this book, I don’t consider that a negative. They kept me intrigued, even if I wasn’t necessarily rooting for any of them. Some of them grew on me in small amounts, and it will be interesting to see how the characters that remain at the end of the book grow and transform through the rest of this series.
Overall, Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension Book One, has way too long of a title, but is a very interesting contribution to the zombie genre. This isn’t your workaday saga about average people trying to make due in a world gone mad, but is about a bunch of mad people living in the eye of the undead storm. Mr. Bilof has me intrigued enough that I feel compelled to check out the next book in this series when it becomes available.
Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension Book One can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/098747653X/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Nightmare of the Dead introduces us to a young woman who wakes up on a train during the civil war, her memory lost, but her sense of what she is capable of with a gun still intact. As a strange green mist appears in another one of the train cars and seeps into hers, she discovers that some sort of horrific transformation is taking place among the men that surround her. Not all are affected by the gas. At least one other boy-a soldier for the confederacy-does not transform into a creature that dead yet still living like the others, and neither does she. These creatures are violent, deadly monsters that lust for flesh and must be killed with a bullet through the head. For all intents and purposes, they are zombies, and their introduction comes as quite a shock to her.
While seeking to discover her identity as faint traces of her past seep into her mind, the woman is pursued by a group of outlaws who know about her past and have plans for her. At the same time, we are introduced to a mad scientist who is the creator of the toxic gas she was exposed to on the train. He has been employed by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, in an effort to turn the tide of the war with his new invention, but the scientist’s main goal is to gain membership into a dark, underworld organization that is intrigued by what he has wrought. The story slowly reveals his relationship with the amnesiac woman and how she is valuable to both him and the “Nightmare Collective.”
Nightmare of the Dead is a zombie tale, though the zombies here are more mutations than anything-it does not appear that they infect you through their bites, but by the exposure to the gas, or other variations of the ingredients the scientist has mixed to cause the zombification.
The story has a different take on the zombie genre in some ways, and the undead play a very secondary role to the main characters and their quests to both understand more themselves and gain revenge upon one another for a very complicated past. I’ve read historical zombie tales-those of the old west included-but this one foregoes many of the traditional elements found in most and carves out its own path. Fans of the genre will get their fair share of zombie gore and action, and both the main character and villain are well developed, especially when the story dives deeper and deeper into their shared history, but don’t go in expecting a traditional tale of the apocalypse. Both the main characters are vile in different ways, but the author is able to give us at least a reason or two to feel sympathy not only for the obvious one of the two, but the other as well.
I think it only fair to share concerns that come to mind with any book I review, and with Nightmare of the Dead it came down to some overly descriptive verse and stiff dialog. This wasn’t something that was pervasive throughout, but came up enough to serve as a distraction. By no means did it wreck the story for me, but it did make some characters feel a bit more forced and awkward than others. The flow isn’t always natural with how they speak. Again, this served as more of a distraction than a major issue, but it was noticeable and I feel compelled to point it out.
Outside of this issue, the story is solid, enjoyable, and I liked discovering and learning about these characters. It is clear that a sequel must be forthcoming, and I look forward to checking that out as well.
Nightmare of the Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1479129496/ref=cm_cr_thx_view