Thursday, May 28, 2015

Exclusive interview with Devan Sagliani!

Hey folks,

    We have a special treat for you today in an interview with author Devan Sagliani (Zombie Attack!, Undead L.A., and The Rising Dead). He's agreed to sit down with us and answer a few questions about his latest books, Curse of the Living (reviewed here) and Army of the Dead (reviewed here). Devan is also one of the publishers of the At Hell's Gate horror anthologies.

    The Zombie Attack! series follows the adventures of Xander MacNamarra, a katana-wielding teenager, who is traveling the Wasteland of a post-apocalypse zombie-filled Earth. Accompanying Xander is his former child star girlfriend Felicity and his younger sidekick Benji. They run into Neo-Nazis, religious fundamentalists, and more in their quest to find the rarest thing possible in this new world: a home.

    1. So, can you tell us about the Zombie Attack! series. What's it about?

    The series follows sixteen-year-old Xander Macnamara as he flees a military base that has been overrun by zombies, heading south in search of his older brother Moto, who is off fighting the hordes with what remains of the military. Along the way Xander faces bikers, cannibals, Neo-Nazi’s, and doomsday cult members. He teams up with a comic book geek along the way, and a child celebrity turned reality television star. The action is constant throughout with the zombies pushing them on as more of a constant threat in a world gone mad with warlords and tribes fighting for control. It’s fast paced and doesn’t slow down. Most readers say they read it in a day or two, some in a single sitting despite it being over eighty-five thousand words.

2. What separates it from other zombie novels?


    Aside from classics like Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry or the Enemy series from Charlie Higson there aren’t a lot of young adult zombie novels out there. I wanted to show the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of those inheriting this screwed up world. I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series and I wanted to create something similar for zombies. Funny thing is people tell me it’s more like The Walking Dead meets The Hunger Games, even though I’d never seen a single episode of TWD before I wrote the first book.

3. Can you describe its protagonists?

    Xander is a tough sixteen-year-old kid who has been trained in martial arts and weapons by his older half-brother Moto. After Z-Day hits Moto leaves him at the base and tells him not to leave no matter what, but he does what he can to help everyone when the walls are knocked down and they are overrun by hordes of hungry undead monsters. Xander is a true friend who sticks up for the little guy, fights for what he believes in, but isn’t afraid to say he’s wrong or ask for help. He makes plenty of mistakes but he works hard to learn from each and every one of them. He’s a natural born leader even if he’s a little reluctant at first to take on the role. He’s the type of hero willing to sacrifice himself so his friends can live.

    Benji is a comic book geek with no special skills but he’s intensely loyal. He’s a good kid who tries to see the best in people, even his enemies. He has a kind heart but he’s not stupid or gullible. He also knows how to lighten the darkest of moods with an upbeat joke.

    Felicity Jane is a child celebrity turned reality television star. She’s sixteen as well, from a totally different world, and carries her own demons, including a personal battle with drug addiction. She’s feisty and resourceful and also very brave. Together they make quite a team.

4. You originally published the sequels, Curse of the Living, and Army of the Dead as one novel? Why separate them?

    When I originally wrote the sequel I ended up getting so caught up in the story and wanting to wrap it all up and explain everything that I ended up writing this really long version. I poured my heart into that book. It consumed me. By the time I was done with rewrites it was twice the size of book one and I was totally exhausted. Originally it was published by Permuted Press. I used to tell people that I wished it was split into two books instead of one because it made more sense as a trilogy but unfortunately I had no way to change that. Recently I was able to get my rights back to all my books with Permuted and put them back out under my own imprint Laughing Crow Media.

    The first thing I did was split the book into two – Curse of the Living and Army of the Dead. Permuted’s version was never marketed which is part of why I left. I never saw significant sales of that version in print or ebook. I’m hoping now that the books are all around the same length and the prices are slashed in half (or free on Kindle Unlimited) that I will be able to change that. The books were never pushed as Young Adult either, which is crazy, so I’m excited to share the series with a whole new group of readers – the ones it was originally intended for!

5. Why choose a katana as Xander's signature weapon?

    I spend a lot of time talking to people on social media, Twitter in particular. I’d already written The Rising Dead by the time I started working on Zombie Attack!: Rise of the Horde and was arguing a lot about the best weapons to use when the inevitable zombie apocalypse eventually arrives. I became fascinated with the idea of giving this kid a katana, more so because it fit the storyline so well. Xander’s half-brother Moto was born and raised in Japan where he trained in martial arts. When he came to live with Xander and his father he became is de-facto martial arts teacher. It was Moto who taught Xander how to wield the katana.

    In a lot of ways Xander represents my inner sixteen-year-old. I grew up obsessed with Japan and ninjas and weapons and martial arts. I still have throwing stars and nunchucks. We used to play with wooden bokken swords as kids too, but I was never allowed to have my own katana. I also wanted him to have a weapon that wouldn’t jam or need reloading, something silent and deadly that would give him an edge of stealth.


6. There's a lot more civilization leftover in your world than most zombie novels. Why is this?


    These aren’t your modern day World War Z fast moving zombies. They are slow and shambling and easy to avoid in general, that is until they group together into hordes or corner you in a house or store. That’s why there are so many pockets of society left in various forms. It’s how I imagine things would most likely be if the world were ever to fall apart due to zombies or something similar.

7. Villains in your novels are varied. Our heroes have fought motorcycle gangs, Neo-Nazis, religious cultists, and even the CIA. What kind of qualities do you like to instill in your bad guys?

    Because it’s a Young Adult series the villains are truly despicable with little or no redeeming qualities that reveal their humanity. Each and every one of them is completely self-absorbed and out of control in a world where there are far fewer consequences or people to tell them no. I had a blast playing around with these guys. They are awesomely bad, ruthless, narcissistic, and willing to kill anyone or anything that stands in their way.

8. What do you see as the role of the US military in your series?

    All of the remaining military forces join together to pool their knowledge, talents, and resources against the varied threats, human and otherwise. Their initial role is to reclaim areas from undead or lawless biker gangs. We also see them defend against attacks on their bases and wage battle against entrenched warlords out to carve their own piece of new territory.

9. Do you think it'll be possible to build the US government back up in your series or do you think something new will emerge?
 

    I foresee them attempting to form new independent states with their own systems of governance. From there I imagine that they would send representatives to discuss federal issues in some kind of national platform, at least in the mainland of the former United States of America. I don’t think they’d be able to recreate the type of government we know today because the world would have changed so dramatically that the idea of paying people to sit around arguing about social issues seems highly unlikely. They’d need to be more effective than our modern day Congress at problem solving, that’s for sure.

10. Sonya is a great character. How did you come up with her?
 

    I wanted to add another strong female voice to the series so I started crafting my ideal of that and Sonya came to life before my eyes. She’s far more complex than the other characters and much more difficult to read, which I think is one of her strengths. It’s hard not to fall in love with her the more you get to know her. She’s passionate, brave, loyal, smart, relentless, and absolutely deadly to anyone who threatens her or the people she loves.

11. Who is your favorite character in the series? Aside from the main two?

    I’d have to say Sonya. I put a lot of love into her character and clearly it paid off since more people talk about her after book two than they do about Xander. That’s a huge compliment!

12. Do you see Army of the Dead as the end of the Zombie Attack! series? Do you have anything planned for us in the future?

    Like I said, originally I thought it would be the end since the books were with Permuted Press and we’d agreed not to pursue it further. Now that it’s back in my hands I am considering doing more books. I’d love to write something around Benji but set in the future that shows how things have progressed as the military fights to regain control of lost regions of the country. I guess in the end it will depend on the fans and how much interest there is. I really try to listen to what readers tell me and learn from it so I can do my best to give them what they want. It doesn’t always happen.

    Sometimes the characters just don’t want to do what I want them to do. I have to follow my heart and imagination to wherever they lead me. It can be a surprise at times that goes right off the outline, causing heavy rewrites but you know how great characters take on a life of their own. And you can’t make everyone happy. In the end I’d be happy to see more adventures set in this world.

Thanks for the interview.

You can find more information about Devan Sagliani at the following locations!

http://devansagliani.com
http://facebook.com/devansagliani
http://facebook.com/zombieattackriseofthehorde
http://smarturl.it/devansagliani
http://smarturl.it/darkdreams

@DevanSagliani

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review


    As people who read this blog may know, I am a fan of The Witcher series. This includes both the novels, which I eventually intend to review on this site, and the video games. Thus, I was a first day purchase for this game and I was eager to get involved in its gameplay. This is such a deep game, I'm going to be doing both a standard review here and a separate review of its storyline.

    So, is the Witcher 3 any good?

    Absolutely.

    The Witcher 3 is a surprisingly deep game both in storytelling, immersion, and gameplay. You can find yourself absorbed in playing for hours on end and part of the fears you will face is, after this game, that you might never be able to enjoy such a vivid world again. There's lows as well as highs, but the game is overall a very impressive technical and writing achievement.

Geralt can have a beard, shave it off, or have it dynamically grow. THE GREATEST VIDEO GAME SIMULATION ELEMENT EVER!
    However, it's not going to be getting a completely uncritical view either. I was a bigger fan of The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings than the original The Witcher. Unfortunately, the developers decided they wanted to bring back a lot of the more annoying qualities of the original game for the third and I feel it's suffered as a result.

    But I'll get into that later in the review.

    The premise is Geralt of Rivia has received word his lover from the novels, Yennefer, has re-emerged and is only a few days ride away. Traveling with his long-time friend and mentor, Vesemir, Geralt finds himself traveling across the war-torn Northern Kingdoms. Nilfgaard, an aggressive military power with similarities to both Imperial and Nazi Germany, has invaded the land. While Geralt's opinion on the invasion may be whatever the player wishes, it is undeniable both sides are committing atrocities against the common people.

     And the common people aren't exactly innocent, either.

The environments are beautifully hand-crafted but a little too monotonous.
    As bad as this situation is, Geralt has bigger problems with the arrival of the titular Wild Hunt. A supernatural gang of killers lead by the nastiest armored monster since Darth Vader, it is seeking not only Geralt but his long-lost adopted daughter Ciri. She has her own plotline and is even a playable character during certain segments.

    The plotline is extremely deep and while it has RPG-elements, I really was immersed in Geralt's story and the fact it manages to make use of previous entries in the series as well as the novels is felt across every section of the game. The developers truly loved the material, the characters, and the story they were trying to tell.

The combat is fluid, fun, and brutal.
    Individuals unfamiliar with the novels are introduced to the characters of Yennefer and Ciri through gameplay and you swiftly come to know these characters intimately. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed the sections where you play Ciri as much if not more than Geralt. She is an awesome character and I wouldn't mind playing a game with her as the star.

    Ciri's a wonderful contrast to Geralt, more idealistic but still worn down by the horrible world which surrounds her. Yennefer, by contrast, is portrayed as slightly sinister at the start but we get an explanation which provides you with all the justification you need for her actions.

    The portrayal of the Northern Kingdoms is fabulous as we get to see a variety of environments and cultures. The land of White Orchard seems like a rural paradise but you don't have to go far to find villages wiped out by war or devastated by monsters. Velen is a hellhole where the collaborators with the Nilfgaard are worse than the Nilfgaardians themselves. Novigard is a city with beautiful estates and hellish slums, all interacting in one believable society. Then they throw in Skellig, a sort of Ireland-meets-Norway, which is just plain fun. Every land has a unique character and every person you talk to has individualized voice-acting and personalities.

Ciri is an amazing character and could easily star in her own game.
    There's also the fact this is a huge game.

    Huge. 

    I'm talking like a single-player MMORPG.

    I've already invested over fifty hours into the game and am nowhere near done with it. The only game I can think of as comparing this to is Dragon Age: Inquisition. Both of them have a similar sense of scope and massive interactivity. No other games manage to blend epic storyline with deep personal characterization. Despite the fact the North is being invaded, Geralt can take an entirely neutral stance to the conflict. He's interested in recovering both Yennefer and Ciri, nothing else (unless you choose to give the White Wolf a patriotic streak).

    The Witcher 3 is definitely low-fantasy and on the grimdark scale of things. There's plotlines involving child abuse, spousal abuse, tragic misunderstandings, racism, war crimes, and religious intolerance. Many of the stories end on bittersweet notes, at best. Geralt can only muddle through things as best he can. The world is nasty, brutal, and full of real-life evils. Surprisingly, trying to do the right thing sometimes works out too.

    Which I liked as it keeps things surprising.

The fighting of bandits, Drowners, deserters, and ghouls gets a bit monotonous at times.
    The world is extremely well-developed and the graphics are gorgeous. However, the first problems of the game start with world-design. There is a lot of open space in this world, which is normally good, but here gets monotonous. Unlike Skyrim or Fallout 3, the many locations across the lamp are largely the same. If you've seen one village or forested glen, then you've seen about half of them. There's plenty of interesting places in the game, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot or really boring ones too.

    Next, the leveling in this game is pretty bad. Throughout the game, there are many side-quests you'll encounter where you won't be able to finish them for upwards to twenty-levels away. While exploring Velen for the first time around level seven, I got a Level 33 quest for example. There are plenty of massively powerful monsters which Geralt will have to run away from until he's had time to beef up. The problem is, that makes no sense for the Witcher franchise. Geralt is, at this point, the survivor of two games as well as the biggest badass in the setting. This is equivalent of Conan running away from a giant spider.

    Finally, I'm not a big fan of inventory in the game. The game poorly manages the sorting of loot in the game, especially the "Use Item" section, so it becomes almost impossible to find which potions you want when you need to find them. I'm still not sure as to what placement system they follow as sometimes newly acquired items are at the top and sometimes at the bottom or in the middle. This can be especially annoying if you're trying to find a specific item for a quest or to use in a situation.

Novel character Yennefer gets a fabulous introduction to the series.
    The combat is fast and enjoyable with a simple yet entertaining sword style. Geralt rarely felt like he was in danger but it was rarely easy either, at least with appropriately leveled encounters. I also loved the variety of ways Geralt can attack his opponents ranging from magic signs, bombs, swords, and crossbows to fists.

    Really, I was torn whether or not to give this a nine or ten. On one hand, there is a lot of busy work. Running across the map or riding your horse to explore the map is rarely as satisfying as in other open-world games. Too much looks like everything else. On the other, the game is very-very fun. In the end, my decision leans toward the latter because of the Bloody Baron's story arc. That was what convinced me this game was worthy of a score equal to the best of the other video games I've played.

    What is the Bloody Baron story arc? It's a series of quests in the "Second Act" portion of the game which deal with a alcholic Robert Baratheon-esque nobleman who has chosen to collaborate with the Nilfgaardians against his countrymen. The acting, revelations, and twists in this storyline are all top notch.

I admit, the Robert Baratheon homage may be a bit "too" on the nose.
    The aforementioned character is just one three-dimensional character who is admirable and repulsive in multiple ways. The way the storyline ended in my game was both tragic and moving. The Witcher video games may be something Andrzej Sapkowski has mixed feelings about but this storyline demonstrated they can do something every bit as good as him.

    In conclusion, The Witcher 3 is a great game for fantasy enthusiasts. It's a fun game, well-written, and with some truly impressive graphics. The game has some parts which are less enjoyable than others but these are often broken up with periods of great awesome. This is a game which is a serious time-sink, though, and will require serious devotion from players if they want to see all of the content.

10/10

Dead Eye: The Skinwalker Conspiracies review


    The Dead Eye series by Jim Bernheimer follows the adventures of Mike Ross, Ferryman to the dead. Bestowed the ability to see and communicate with ghosts due to an eye transplant from a psychic. Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman chronicled Mike's struggle with the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe's brother plus a Civil War battlefield full of spooks.

    The premise of The Skinwalker Conspiracies is Mike settling into his role as the world's Ferryman. Having gained a number of allies, he sets upon his most important mission yet: to find his father who had been possessed by a Skinwalker during his teenage years. This gets him involved in a massive conflict between Lee Harvey Oswald (!), Hernado De Soto (!!), Virginia Wolfe (!!!), and his best friend's stripper ex-girlfriend's ghost.

    The number of historical personages who show up in the Dead Eye series is one of the series' main appeals. Despite the fact Mike discovers that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't the party responsible for Kennedy's death due to possession, he's still portrayed as a sociopath radical Marxist nutjob. While none of the character's portrayals are historically accurate, they're enjoyable and work for the context of the world.

    The Skinwalker Conspiracies is far more linked together than its predecessor, less like a series of funny vignettes and more like a single coherent narrative. Hernando De Soto is an excellent villain who possesses numerous abilities which are both plausible as well as fascinating to watch. I also like the insight this book provides into ghost metaphysics, stating that the more famous a ghost is as well as the older, the more powerful they are.

    There's some truly great moments spread throughout the book. Mike Ross' brief romance with a ghost from the 1960s is a high point, showing that what he really wants most in his life is stability. I also loved an utterly surreal moment when his soul is imprisoned in a dog. The book pays a lot more attention to Mike's social life and we get a sense he is a very lonely person who just wants to have friends who don't try to kill him.

    My favorite characters from the previous novel, Jenny and Candy, don't make an onscreen appearance here and this was disappointing. I was a big pusher for Mike and Candy's relationship, which ended rather abruptly in the previous novel. I was doubly surprised to see Jenny not play a role in the novel given how important she was to the narrative. Despite this, there's many interesting female characters and I enjoyed the return of Karla especially.

    Unfortunately, there is one serious flaw in the book I would be remiss in not mentioning. Jim Bernheimer sets up a character as a morally bankrupt but "fun" rival to Mike Ross. Cassandra, a Skinwalker from the previous book, becomes less of an enemy and more of an uneasy ally to our hero. Unfortunately, said character's actions are unforgivable and horrific.

    In the TV show Supernatural, there was a fan outcry when protagonist Sam started sleeping with a demon named Ruby, mostly due to the fact any body she was inhabiting was getting sexually assaulted due to being a hostage by Ruby. We get to see the aftermath of Cassandra's rampage in one young woman having been confined to a mental hospital for her years of abuse. This is in addition to the betrayals, murders, and torture she commits as an unrepentant monster.

    She is, in a word, irredeemable.

    Mike treats her more like the mean girl at his local high school.

    It's...really dissonant.

    Despite this, I'm not going to complain too much. The book is a bit rough to start and has the curious quality of using "Episodes" instead of Chapters (carrying over from the previous book no less) but has a mostly enjoyable narrative. Mike Ross is an enjoyable protagonist and he has a fun collection of supporting players.

    I just hope he sends Cassandra straight to hell next book

8.5/10

Buy at Amazon.com

Monday, May 25, 2015

Assassin's Creed: Unity: Dead Kings DLC review


    Warning - this will contains spoilers for Assassin's Creed: Unity.

    Assassin's Creed: Unity was a very flawed game. It had an amazing set of graphics, fun gameplay, and a lot of bonus content contrasted with a vanilla protagonist who bounced his way through a brutal misrepresentation of history. One thing which really bothered me, though, was that Arno Dorian's storyline didn't really resolve itself.

    It just stopped.

    When last we left Arno Dorian, he'd just lost the love of his life and been drummed out of the Assassins. An epilogue revealed him wearing the robes of a Master Assassin and still working with Napoleon Bonaparte but this didn't provide any context to what his current situation was. There was a rather confusing voice over about what he believed the Assassin's Creed meant but that just added more questions since none of the events in the game related to his conclusions.

    In short, it felt rushed and half-finished.

I wonder what the Assassins DO with the Pieces of Eden.
    Assassin's Creed: Unity: Dead Kings is a free DLC from Ubisoft which provides a number of answers to the game's emotional questions if not the overarching plot. Much like the Siege of Foril and Bonfire of the Vanities, Dead Kings feels like an actual part of the story. I don't think the game is really "complete" unless you choose to play it.

    So it has that recommendation.

    I should note, though, Dead Kings wasn't originally meant to be free. It was originally part of the Season Pass of the game. However, Ubisoft decided to make it free to all purchasers of the game as a means of apologizing for the dicey launch of Unity. I've got to say that it goes a long way to winning over my trust, especially knowing that purchasers of the Season Pass get a free game instead.

    So what is the premise?

The Marquis de Sade is an odd choice for Arno's sole remaining friend.
    Arno Dorian is sick of France after the death of Elise at the hands of Germaine. Contacting the Marquis de Sade, he asks for help in getting to Egypt. Why Egypt? Maybe Arno wants to climb the pyramids. Anyway, the Marquis' price is the recovery of a treasure map which gets him involved in Napoleon's plot to recover another Piece of Eden. Along the way, Arno befriends a small boy named Leon who helps him recover a sense of purpose about what he's supposed to be doing with his life.

    There's a lot wrong with this premise, ranging from the fact I don't see why Arno Dorian needs help from a crime lord to get out of France when he can just buy a ticket. There's also the fact I'm not sure what the Marquis wants versus Napoleon versus everyone else. I'm sure it was explained but the plot seems to be almost an excuse. Plus, any time a story depends on the idea of the main character teaming up with a bratty adolescent--you know there's going to be problems.

    Yet, despite this, I liked it.

The bats are an annoyance as is the constant need to refill the lamp.
    The biggest thing this DLC has going for it is Arno's new cynical hard-edged personality. He actually emotes more than smug arrogant swashbuckler. Really, I'm kind of sad the storyline is about him regaining faith in the Assassin cause because I liked his new personality. Leon also serves a decent role as symbolizing Arno's lost idealism.

    Really, the entire DLC is nothing but one gigantic scavenger hunt for yet another Piece of Eden. It's about the laziest plotline you could conceive of for Assassin's Creed. Still, it's a well-done lazy bit of plotting with lots of strange puzzles and Indiana Jones-like scenes. It also culminates in getting a chance to use a Piece of Eden against the hordes of annoying bandits you faced in the previous levels.

    The graphics are well-done, too, with the city of Saint Denis being a fog-encrusted town filled with ruined churches and creepy cemeteries. The creepy sense of the macabre and decay contrasts with the relatively uplifting story, giving the game a unique feel. The addition of a lantern mechanic doesn't add much to the story but I enjoyed the new enemy types who are the first in the history of the franchise to realize fighting a superpowered ninja is stupid.

Leon could have easily been as annoying as Scrappy Doo but, shockingly, isn't.
    The biggest addition for the game is the "Guillotine Gun" which is a bazooka which can also serve as a spear. It's a kind of bizarre weapon that's out of place in the game but given it's shown up in the inventory of the main game from the beginning, a lot of us were looking forward to it. While useless to those of us who prefer to minimize casualties, it's wonderful for mass mayhem.

    Overall, I'm going to compliment the DLC as being slightly more enjoyable than the original, accent on slightly, even if it is derivative treasure hunt.

9/10

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Zombie Attack!: Army of the Dead review


    The Zombie Attack! novels are a series of Young Adult novels by Devan Sagliani about the adventures of Xander Macnamarra. a seventeen-year-old martial arts student with a katana, and ex-child star Felicity. The two of them and their companions travel across the ruins of the United States, trying to avoid outlaws and the ever-hungry hordes of the undead scavenging across it.

    The premise of this book picks up immediately after Curse of the Living. After the capture of Xander MacNamarra, Felicity, and Sonya by an old enemy--they discover there is a secret cabal working to overthrow the government of the United States remnant plus an alliance with the local bandits. Joining forces with Xander's brother, Moto, they try and thwart this plan before the last bastion of civilization in the world is destroyed for good.

    I very much enjoyed Army of the Dead. It's a story which manages to wrap up Xander and Felicity's story for a second time. I would very much like to see their continuing adventures after this book but can understand why, after the announcement at the end of the book, why this would be difficult.

    The coup de'tat plotline is one which I could take or leave. While an excellent concept, calling into question how much Xander and his brother should have trusted the United States armed forces (especially when they don't answer to any civilian government), I wasn't really sold on them. We never got a really good confrontation moment between their leader and Xander, so he remained mostly a caricature with a supervillain-esque plot.

    Despite this, I liked the book had a running theme. The survivors of the zombie apocalypse have all managed to cordon themselves off into little self-sufficient kingdoms. All of them want to reform the United States but the villains have the idea this can only be done through conquest. In truth, it probably only can be because not too many people have much respect lingering for the US of A (which failed to stop the zombies). It's just that creating the USA by conquest is exactly the opposite of the way it should exist (history aside).

    Doubly so, if it involves unleashing zombies on your neighbors.

    I liked the expanded role of Sonya and Moto in the book, who form an excellent couple of badasses. I would happily read a book about them, even if they're kind of old for the role of Young Adult heroes. I would love to watch them as actual novel protagonists, though, since they're a post-apocalyptic samurai and bounty hunter.

    My inner twelve-year-old loves that.

    The villains in the book are delightfully scummy. While I'm a big fan of moral ambiguity in zombie apocalypse stories, sometimes it's great to just enjoy good guys fighting bad. I love the fates which befall all of our bad guys this time around and they are suitably imaginative. I'm not a big fan of "super zombies", at least outside of Resident Evil but their appearance in this book worked well.

    I also liked we got some insight into the reasons for the zombie apocalypse. The author could have easily made the creator of the virus a complete monster but he chose to go a more interesting route. I kind of regret we didn't get a chance to see how someone does live with the guilt of destroying the world but, I suppose, "you don't" is a good enough answer as any.

    One thing I do object to is the decision to move Felicity and Xander's relationship forward even more than it already had been. The pair had been running into problems because they got married to soon in the second book, only now for the next step in a relationship to occur when they resolved that. I would have appreciated if the author had taken the time to let their marriage settle before rushing into things but, hey, these things happen.

    In conclusion, I found Zombie Attack!: Army of the Dead to be a great end to the Zombie Attack! trilogy and Xander MacNamarra's adventures in particular. It had some flaws but it was pretty enjoyable all the way through.

9/10

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Zombie Attack!: Curse of the Living review


    I liked the light-hearted but still serious Young Adult novel Zombie Attack!: Rise of the Horde (reviewed here). I'm a great believer that those years from thirteen to eighteen are when kids develop a desire for more mature content and it's the obligation of writers to provide them with that. Having enjoyed the original novel, I was pleased to hear that not only had Devan Sagliani written a sequel but having finished it, he decided it was worth splitting into two novels and expanding into as series.

    So what is the premise?

    Xander MacNamarra has survived the zombie apocalypse, managing to join up with the United States military's remnant on the California coast. This has its ups and downs as while it's given him the stability to marry his girlfriend, Felicity, it has also resulted in his recruitment. Because of his relationship with his high-ranking brother, Xander is promoted to a leadership position over men twice his age and put in charge of defending one of the civilian camps despite not being ready for it.

    Command doesn't agree with Xander and he quickly alienates the people he's supposed to be protecting. Paranoia, mistrust, and a series of unfortunate events result in him on the run with his bride across the zombie and outlaw-filled wastelands once more. Add in a new friend who might be a foe, bounty hunter Sonya, and you have an excellent basis for a story.

    The start of the book is the weakest portion, forcing a believable but boring jealousy plotline to emerge between Xander and his wife. Xander becomes insanely jealous of Felicity's friendship with a male coworker for the first half of the book and the second half reverses to her being jealous of Xander's relationship with Sonya.

    This isn't unrealistic as seventeen-year-olds are stupid, I know, I was one once, but it's annoying. I'm also not fond of the resolution given I'm not a big fan of, "You can't be jealous of X, because he's gay!" As if it's less wrong that he's jealous of a heterosexual male friend. As for the second bit of jealousy? Well, that would be spoiling a major subplot so I'll just say it was obvious to me what was really going on.

    Despite this, there's a lot to like about both the novel and its characterization. The original novel felt like a stand-alone  but the author expands on both the world as well as its central couple. The addition of Sonya is welcome given the decided lack of estrogen in the original novel. Besides, who doesn't like a blonde Samus Aran-esque bounty hunter in the post-apocalypse world? Sonya is a great character who reminds the audience that, yes, adults can be awesome too.

    The heart of the novels, though, is the main character and his internal monologues. Xander MacNamarra is a capable swordsman, intelligent, and tough but he makes mistakes. He's also overwhelmed by people who are stronger than him or multiple opponents. With so many youthful protagonists being unbelievable badasses despite their age, it's nice to have someone who is authentic feeling.

    I'm also a huge fan of Felicity, who despite being a child star, also comes off as someone I could see existing in real-life. She's intelligent, brave, and quite a good deal smarter than Xander. Felicity isn't an action girl like Sonya but manages to impress with her strength of character and compassion. She's never weak or a load on the characters, too, so I'm quite willing to think of her as Xander's equal despite her needing a weapon of some kind. Maybe she can take pistol training in the upcoming books or something.

    I will give props to the author for the fact he managed to turn around a scenario I thought was a mistake. When the pair married at the end of the first book, I thought it was a trifle unrealistic given their ages. Of course, seventeen-year-olds make mistakes like this all the time. Perhaps not quite as bad but the pair's parents aren't there to haul them back either. I applaud the author for being honest that marriage wouldn't be all sunshine and roses even if I didn't quite like the way he went about it.

    The setting is also great and the author gets a chance to expand on it much more than the first book allowed. It's a weird combination of science-fiction apocalypses with zombies being a lesser problem than the roving gangs you'd find in, say, Mad Max. This would make a pretty decent video game setting as the environment provides very different sorts of challenges for our heroes.
    
    The world is still mostly-civilized but it's broken up into dozens of smaller nations with countless outlaws living on the fringes of society. Zombies are a common problem but not an insurmountable one, just one which is preventing rebuilding. I like that many of the warlords and leaders of the post-apocalypse world have plans for rebuilding society--it's just they have very different ideas about what said society is going to look like.

    In conclusion, Curse of the Living is a very good entry into the genre. It's not perfect but I think it's very good. It also does its job of making me think there's a full-fledged series worth of material here. As for myself, I'm interested in reading the Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. MacNamarra for many books to come.

9/10

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman review


    Ghosts are the red-headed stepchild of the monster world.

    The problem with them is inherent: people want ghosts to exist. You can't say that about vampires, demons, or werewolves. Everyone, though, would like there to be proof positive of an afterlife. Also, ghost stories rarely have much of an impression. They're usually restricted to a singular haunted house or possessing people at their worst. This is far from the level of danger that a vampire represents to life and limb.

    Jim Bernheimer's Dead Eye solve most of these problems.

    He might not have written the ghostly version of The Dresden Files, mostly because Jim Butcher already did that with Ghost Story, but he's written something which is in the same ballpark. Dead Eye is a fun, witty, and engaging comedy-horror series. The first novel is a great start to what I hope is a longstanding series.

    The premise is Mike Ross, Iraq War veteran, has lost his eye due to a roadside bomb. Getting an cornea transplant from a psychic, he discovers this awakens his own latent potential. Mike is soon deluged with requests for help from the local spirits ranging from helping them solve their own murders to protecting loved ones. Soon, Mike discovers the spirit world is full of the same sorts of predators the living world is, including a set of powerful warlords who have divided the United States between them.

    Mike Ross is an excellent protagonist, possessing a dry understated sense of humor and a reluctant sense of humor. Mike is more interested in making money with his gift than being a monster hunter but he's not going to prey on people's grief either. While an army veteran, he's not a combat expert either. As such, Mike Ross is a perfectly "believable" hero overlooking his magical eye.

    I also like Mike's supporting cast of living and dead assistants. I'm particularly fond of his potential love interests Jenny and Candy. Jenny is an enthusiastic young woman who loves the idea of involving herself in the supernatural world. Candy, by contrast, is a fun-loving police officer who helps Mike through his problems. Of the two, I much preferred Candy but it seems the author prefers Jenny.

    The book functions as a series of events more than a single coherent narrative, putting Mike through a series of increasingly-oddball situations. We get to follow him as he slowly develops confidence in his abilities, figures out the origins of his powers, and copes with their effect on his mundane life. I especially liked how Mike deals with the fact his mother thinks he's either becoming a con man or gone insane.

    I'm a big fan of the book's episodic storytelling as it manages to give us a sense of the character through multiple adventures rather than just one crazy day. Jim Bernheimer has an eye for detail as to how an ability like Mike's would slowly take over his life. We see the ups and downs through cases both big and small. I like, also, how some people are more skeptical than others while no one reacts in a way which would make me think this wasn't taking place in the quote-unquote real-world.

    Despite this, the author lays the groundwork for a larger plot involving the Arlington National Cemetery Warlords and a being called the Beast. There's plenty of set-up for an entire series of books and I would find them very interesting to read. While ghosts are the only "monster" variety in the Dead Eye world, there are multiple types of ghosts with varying ranges of ability.

    The fact some humans are vulnerable to possession and capable of being affected by ghosts gives spooks some bite. I also like how ghosts are no different from the people they are in life. Some are good, some are evil, and most fall somewhere in-between with their moralities tending to reflect the time which they died. There's quite a few humorous scenes influenced by the fact Mike is dealing with people who grew up in the 19th century.

    The American Civil War plays a big role in the setting's history, providing several historical and pseudo-historical figures to series' mythology. An ongoing subplot is ghosts draining energy from their memorials in the living world. This helps with the realism of the book, showing a world where the living and the dead are still intertwined. It's imaginative world-building like that which makes the book a cut above typical examples of the genre.

    The book has some flaws. For instance, I thought the author telegraphed too much that he didn't think Candy and Mike weren't right for each other, not allowing their relationship to progress believably. A series of unbelievable obstacles threw themselves in their way for seemingly no other reason than to prevent the two from getting together. Likewise, I felt the climatic confrontation between Mike and the Beast was unnecessary. The book had a perfectly sound climax with villain "Lord Justice." I believe the later third of the book should have been an entire volume in itself. I don't think the book is all that worse for either, though.

    This is a great urban fantasy novel and I think fans of the genre would really love it. Its got great world-building, characterization, humor, and action. I recommend anyone who wants a quick enjoyable paranormal read to pick it up.

10/10

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