Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Zombies Fear: The Gathering review

    What Zombies Fear is a series which subverts many traditional zombie tropes. It is a series about humans fighting back against the darkness and succeeding. Sacred cows of the genre like the mindlessness of zombies, the hopelessness of the world, and the helplessness of humans are attacked head on. Protagonist Victor Tookes has a plan to kill every zombie in the world and you're invited to join in it when you read these novels.

    The premise of What Zombies Fear is that a stereotypical zombie apocalypse happens but things start going askew in surprising and entertaining ways. For one, not every human being who is bitten dies. Instead, some develop superpowers. This is such an off-kilter and enjoyable addition to the genre I'm willing to cut the authors a lot of slack for any decision they make thereafter. We also discover the zombies are controlled by aliens called "bugs" or E'clei which inhabit the corpses of the many. The E'clei are intelligent but genocidal, only a few of their kind willing to assist humanity.

    A key to the series' appeal is the character of Victor Tookes and his relationship to the other characters. A strong central protagonist can make or break any series and this one is no exception. Much like Rick in The Walking Dead, it falls to Victor Tookes to guide his group of survivors in surviving the post Z-Day world. Unlike Rick, however, Victor has both the tools and motivation to actively wage war against the entire zombie horde. It may be an impossible task to slay every zombie in the world but, by The Gathering, they've managed to kill over a million using a mix of creative tactics and superpowers.

    Still, no novel would be enjoyable without a little drama. Authors Kirk Allmond and Laura Bretz make a good decision to show how Victor's crusade to rid the world of zombies comes off as delusional to his fellow human beings. Even the ones who are either close family or in love with him as off-put by his grand vision.

    No one but Victor accepts that if even a single zombie survives then it's possible humanity may be destroyed for a second time. Readers are left to judge for themselves whether Victor is rationale, a fool, or simply trying to cope with the apocalypse by venting his rage on the undead. I, personally, think it's a combination of all three.

    The Gathering develops Victor's son Max a little more and it's a welcome thing given their relationship was such an important part of A Father's Quest. Max's increasing powers means that he, rather than Victor, might be the salvation of humanity. However, the fact he's little more than a toddler shows this is an irresponsible (if not psychotic) response to the situation. It's an agonizing choice to imagine: saving the world versus saving your son and Victor refuses to acknowledge there's any choice to be made at all. In some respects, this reminds me of The Last of Us and that's high praise.

    The intelligent zombies, at last, have a leader with the newly introduced character of Laura. Unintelligent zombies do not need a "Queen" or villain other than evil humans but the existence of intelligent ones means I've been dying for a "face" to the enemy threat for some time. Laura is, sadly, pretty one-dimensional. While one might argue a person who wants to kill seven billion humans to make an army of the rotting dead can't be more than a one-note character, I was hoping for more.

    This volume introduces a few new characters including Victor's father and the eidetic memory-possessing Kris. I especially liked Kris and was glad to see her propped up as someone who was willing to call Victor on his sometimes-questionable logic. Even with more and more of his group willing to call him out, Victor has somewhat skated over the problems of leadership until now. Having someone willing to argue with him makes the story a great deal more dynamic.

    In short, I approve of this volume and suggest the series is only getting better as time passes.


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