The Undead Ruins doesn’t pick up immediately after the second book in the trilogy, The Undead Haze, but about a decade after the start of the zombie apocalypse and years after Cyrus reconnected with Blaze near the end of the previous book. They have spent the past few years working for the leader of three rebuilt towns as mercenaries for hire, doing the tough jobs no one else wants, including executing those who have disobeyed the laws about hiding undead family members. As has always been the case, Blaze and Cyrus are aloof, not befriending many of the people they now interact with except for a select few that have a military background like Blaze. She still has every intention of finding her lost brother, the brother that Cyrus knows about and has kept secrets about since the events that took place in the prior novel. That isn’t the only secret he’s keeping from Blaze-secrets if revealed might mean his death at the hands of his closest companion.
At the start of this trilogy, Cyrus V. Sinclair proclaimed himself a sociopath. Much of the frustration with the author from the bulk of reviews I have seen have been with this proclamation. Either he is not a textbook definition of a sociopath or he softens in the second book to the point where even Cyrus is no longer sure what he is anymore. Whatever he truly is, since all three of these books were written in first person, we have only the narcissistic and egotistical Cyrus to rely on for his diagnosis. It would be fair to say that Cyrus liked the idea of being a sociopath and indeed has some of those tendencies, though even he had to acknowledge he has transformed into something else by the time the events of this book take place. Blaze, Cyrus’s companion and sometimes nemesis, is perhaps closer in definition to a sociopath, although the love she shows for her brother puts a chink in her armor with that designation. More important, Blaze would be unlikely to care what someone labels her. She is what the world has made her.
Things start out fairly calm at the beginning of this book, with Blaze and Cyrus dealing with grunt work no one else wants to do. They aren’t necessarily popular with most of the town folk due to the roles they take on, but they are needed and appreciated by the leadership. Unfortunately, with an attack on one of the towns, there are hints that the crazies they thought had faded into history have returned, stronger than ever and with a new and even more vicious leader. With this new turmoil comes the possibility that the lies that Cyrus has been telling Blaze to keep the peace between them will be revealed.
It is interesting how the voice of Cyrus has changed during the course of these books. A smug, unrepentant loner when we first meet him, he still remains aloof but has transformed in many ways. He still loathes cowardice and weakness, but has gained a respect for those who fight to survive and the necessity of civilization, even if aspects of it make him nauseous. The relationship between him and Blaze has gotten more complicated. They are not lovers, but soldiers who have been through wars together. They would fight and die for one another but at the same time it seems clear that one would kill the other if it suited their needs.
Overall, this has been an entertaining trilogy. The main character made a proclamation about himself early on that does not play out as he expected. If it had, this story would have run the risk of predictability. A criticism I had for the first book came back to haunt this one when the author slips away from first person for a brief moment-a chapter-near the end of the novel. It could be argued in both cases of the necessity of these diversions although I believe that the author could have found a way to keep on telling the story from Cyrus’ perspective and gotten the same point across. I had few other quibbles when it came to the writing itself. It was interesting that here in the third book about Cyrus that the story is as much about someone else, Blaze, as it was about him. It added depth to the tale and made their relationship that much more compelling.
The Undead Ruins can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Undead-Ruins-Situation-Book/dp/161868471X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-2&qid=1433201326
Deadlands Rising wraps up the Deadland’s trilogy. Cash, Clutch, and the diminished group of close nit survivors that they call family are working on making it to the promised safe haven in New Eden, to the west of where they have been fighting to survive in Iowa for the bulk of the first two books. New Eden is a fenced in community in Nebraska surrounding an old abandoned missile silo. Marco, last of the squad from New Eden sent out to find survivors, promises to lead the group to safety behind its walls.
The first two novels of the trilogy followed the path of most zombie sagas with an equal mix of catastrophe and despair served up on almost every page. This novel follows a slightly different track. The author has modeled all three works after Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, with the first representing hell, the second purgatory, and this, the third book, heaven, or paradise. The seven virtues laid out in Paradiso are laid out as section headings of this book, with the flavor of the third act is distinctly different from the first two. Paradise is more of a wish than reality for the survivors, with the threat of the undead diminished, but never too far away. The zombies have either migrated with the hordes to the south where it is warmer or have started to freeze solid in the bitterly cold Midwestern winter. They are less of a threat and have been replaced with new dangers that are perhaps even more dire for the few living humans who remain. I gave the author credit for crafting massive, almost unfathomable hordes of the undead churning up everything in their path in the previous book. A slow moving, undeniable destroyer of all in its path was a concept I’d not seen used to effect in other zombie novels. In the third book, she takes another intriguing result of a world ravaging plague and squeezes as much potential terror out of it as possible. Wild packs of dogs, abandoned by their owners, have managed to survive by feasting on the dead-devouring the undead they could cull from the herd. Infected with a variation of the plague, they do not turn but have the equivalent of rabies. With as fervent a hunger as the undead and a bite that is equally lethal, they serve as both symbols of fear and tragedy. Innocent, those not destroyed and devoured alongside their masters get to suffer a fate far worse than death, through no fault of their own.
Of course, rabid animals are not the only threat in the conclusion to this saga. Facing a brave, or terrifying, new world in the aftermath of the plague is one of the biggest struggles the characters face. What will happen and who will be guiding humanity’s attempts to rebuild are the daunting questions they must face, along with the consequences of the paths those who lead decide to follow.
The author does an excellent job of bring this story to a conclusion which should satisfy most readers…especially those who have likely grown weary of what I would dub the ‘never ending story syndrome’ that is rife in apocalyptic fiction and in other genres as well. Authors who insist on leaving plotlines open and loose ends loose so more of the story can be told in either another trilogy or another book with no promise of completion. Rachel Aukes wraps things up nicely here, with no loose ends. While the author pulled no punches when it comes to how grim things got for the main characters, a spark of hope remained throughout the story, even when it threatened to be snuffed out for good on numerous occasions.
The connection to The Divine Comedy is, for the most part, in the background enough that someone unfamiliar with Dante’s masterpiece will not get distracted by it, though those who are familiar with it should appreciate the author’s efforts at sharing the zombified version of a journey through hell, purgatory, and the attempt to rise up into paradise.
Deadlands Rising can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Deadland-Rising-Saga-Volume/dp/1508583064/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
Dead Living by Glenn Bullion starts out as a traditional Day Zero tale with several survivors narrowly escaping a hospital being overrun by the undead. The story skips forward several years a couple of times to re-introduce us to the baby born on that fateful day who has grown into a young man with a special gift. The undead, for some reason, do not realize that he is alive…or at least they have no interest in attacking or eating him. Aaron has survived in the midst of the undead, in Baltimore, which is crawling with them, for many years after everyone he knew was lost to him. As an adult he manages to cross paths with Samantha, another survivor who was abandoned on a supply run into the city by the rest of her team when she got separated from them. Samantha is aloof, cold, and distrusts just about everyone, but after Aaron saves her she feels compelled to do the same for him and invites him back to the small community she resides in a good distance from the city.
As the two new-worlders of the zombie apocalypse get to know one another they grow attached, though Aaron feels the need to maintain his secret talent from Samantha, for fear that she and the others in her community will think of him as a freak. But his ability grants him the capability to wander freely amongst the dead, and that is a talent that his newfound group of friends are going to need to survive both the undead and the living, who, as always, are the real threat to survival.
Dead Living was an easy read and took an interesting idea of the undead being indifferent to someone and ran with it. Aaron’s gift gives him a tremendous advantage and his burgeoning relationship with Samantha has given him a reason to use it for more than just a way to hide away from the rest of the living, but to also help others. The author adds another undead tidbit with the ‘thinkers’, who are the rare but very dangerous undead that can figure out simple things, like how to maneuver objects or turn doorknobs to get access to the living. Naturally, the undead are an overriding threat (and when a thinker is around, they are doubly dangerous), but it is the living, including slavers who roam the wastelands looking for weak survivors to capture, that are the most dangerous element of Aaron and Sam’s world.
The story does require a good deal of suspension of disbelief, especially when it comes to certain technologies that still work over two decades after the world has collapsed. While it might be plausible that someone, somewhere is making bullets and producing gasoline, it seemed a bit of a stretch that there are still stores of such commodities still being found on scavenging runs. It felt at times that the world was more like two to three years down the road from the first undead attacks rather than twenty three with what has come to pass for everyone still around.
The relationship between the main characters is well developed and their newfound relationship is well paced, though Aaron’s fascination and thoughts about how beautiful Samantha was got a bit repetitive after a while. For the most part, their growing affection for one another didn’t feel forced or uncomfortable though-it had a very natural appeal.
The zombie gore is kept to a minimum in the story and instead the focus is on the challenges Aaron and Sam have in both relating to each other and to the world around them. Aaron’s secret keeps things interesting, but Sam’s slow willingness to become more vulnerable around Aaron also keeps the story moving in the right direction. Overall, a fast, entertaining read that will appeal to those who enjoy the human dynamic more than a heavy dose of zombie gore in their apocalyptic fiction.
Loose Ends by Jay Wilburn is a bit different style zombie apocalypse tale for several reasons, the main being the characters that inhabit this particular world. We are introduced to our main character, Mutt, a fifteen year old boy who also happens to be mute. He is hiding from a zombie pounding on the door of the panic room he has been in for a couple of days when the story starts. The compound he’s lived in for most of the time since the dead rose up (about a decade) appears to be several buildings that have been connected and has been the dwelling place for a decent sized group of people. Over the years, it has suffered attacks from zombies and humans alike, but the tenants have always persevered. Not this time. The only survivors are Mutt and the three men he works with in the kitchens: Chef, Short Order, and Doc. Naturally, just like with Mutt, these are nicknames, but the reader isn’t provided real names of the characters until we are well into the story. After cooking a few last meals and competing with one another to see who can outdo the others in taste and extravagance, they decide that it is time to hit the road, and find a new home.
The wide world is a dangerous, depraved place, with not only the biker types that assaulted them (along with the undead) this last time out there, but numerous other tribes of survivors that range from the deadly to the demented. Mainly what our team of travelers finds at first is the undead. They set out with their modified truck filled with supplies with the hopes of discovering a new and safe home-but they go in the direction that some of the men know and remember, and might not be their safest bet. We get to know the characters better on their journey of attempting to one up one another in their cooking of meals they scrounge out in the wild. Details are revealed about each of them, including their real names and their past. Mutt too reveals more about himself and the brief childhood he had before it was torn apart by the undead. Some of what is revealed seems almost better off remaining buried, with tragedies from the past that are hard to deal with, even after ten years of living with the undead.
Loose Ends definitely takes a different approach to introducing and revealing its characters. These men are tightly bonded to one another, and the fact that Mutt is unable to speak allows their stories to be told with little interference from him, though it all through his eyes, including some very disturbing things. While these three men are friends who protect and take care of Mutt (Doc especially, who Mutt is apprenticed to) they also have conflicts that stem from the fact that they are out of the safe and neutral environment of the compound and back out on the road traveling through the places where they are given the chance to revisit their pasts.
This book is not just a character study, it is a zombie apocalypse actioner, with plenty of scenes filled with harrowing attacks and attempted assaults of the small crew of survivors. I am a fan of fully developed characters and human conflict that arises in apocalyptic tales-revealing the truth that is forced to come to the surface because of the harsh realities that surround the people trying to survive-and this tale definitely delivers that. But I also love action and the horror that comes from the unrelenting nature of the undead, and Loose Ends delivers in that respect as well.
As far as the negatives with this story, as there are with every tale, it was my reaction to the beginning and something that happens not too far in that I had issue with. I have a pet peeve about perspectives, and committing to the perspective chosen. The author tells this story in first person, through Mutt’s eyes, and true to that, we never see anything from someone else. But the author decides to bend the rules a bit and allows Mutt to imagine, in great detail, what is going on somewhere else. Imagining what is going on isn’t a big deal, unless it reads like a very detailed and factual part of the story. It felt forced here, but thankfully it is only a brief part of the story. It does, however, happen very early on, which made me a bit fearful that it would crop up on a regular basis. Thankfully this is not the case, and after another very minor dip into doing this again, the author leaves this behind and lets Mutts true perspective lead the way.
Overall, the storytelling here is solid. Mutt lacks a voice but his ability to see what is going on around him and relate it to the reader adds a distinct flavor to the tale. He both fears and relies on the men he is traveling with, in particular Doc, who he shares several harrowing adventures with and yet distrusts in many ways. Mutt is not passive-he is an active participant in choosing his own destiny, which makes the story all the more satisfying.
Loose Ends tells the story of three men and a boy who all have issues from their past and have different levels of desire to confront these issues under the guise of searching for a new place to call home. Some want to lay them to rest while others appear to be more interest in ripping open old wounds and remembering the darkness. It is an interesting journey that I’m glad I tagged along for.