Thursday, July 16, 2015

Reviva Las Vegas: Dead Man's Hand review

    Next on our review of independent zombie fiction is Sean Hoade's Reviva Las Vegas, which is an awesome book with a cover I hate.

    Sorry Sean.

    I'm officially over "normal" zombie fiction which doesn't add anything new to the genre. With rare exceptions, there's nothing which can be done with "zombie-outbreak occurs and main characters hide" which I haven't seen before. However, if you add a twist to the story like make the character perpetually sunny (Time of Death), badass monster hunters (The Becoming), or supernatural badasses (What Zombies Fear) then I'm more inclined to cut you some slack. Reviva Las Vegas makes its particular twist in the fact the hero is basically Brett Maverick and he's living a zombie-filled world not too dissimilar to the one in the Fallout games. Oh and he also inserts a stand-in for Mattie from True Grit as the hero's sidekick/love-interest.

    Okay, you have my attention.

    The premise is Chris Newman, the world's last professional poker player, lives in the new Wild West which has occurred thanks to the outbreak of zombies. A semblance of steampunk-esque civilization remains due to the fact the zombies are treated as threatening but only so much as you're not smart enough to avoid them. In short, the book uses zombies as an excuse to drive humanity back to the 19th century except for things like electricity and Las Vegas. There's gunslingers, cowboys, wandering gamblers, and the horse as the fastest mode of transportation.

    And it's pretty awesome.

    After a couple of humorous but disastrous games in local towns, Chris is invited to Dos Vegas (Las Vegas 2--its a joke), in order to play against the dictator who rules there. The prize if he wins? The chance to stay in the most luxurious city left on the planet where a man like him will never want for work. Dos Vegas is the last remaining tourist destination in the world but only a select few are allowed to stay. Once he arrives, he finds the place is a well-fed but dystopian nightmare full of fat lazy slobs, no apparent source of food, and a demented cult of personality around his opponent.

    Chris is also falling in love with his teenage but supremely capable guide. A fact he strenuously resists, to those worried the book might go in a despicable direction by having them hook up. Some may find themselves unable to respond to Chris as a hero for even being attracted to Danielle, which is fine, but I should note the author is aware of the inappropriate nature of their relationship as is the main character. That was enough for me to go with it. The Hound was attracted to Sansa and I still liked him.

    There's a genuinely disturbing revelation about Danielle later in the books but it's related to the villain and a part of the crapsack nature of Dos Vegas. Nothing happens on camera or even during the present, which is more than many grimdark zombie stories I can say. Some individuals may find this too dark for their tastes but, really, it was meant to be horrifying and the heroes bounce back surprisingly well.

    Amusingly, after that rather dire disclaimer, there should be noted that the book's biggest appeal is it's actually really-really funny. Despite the fact he lives in a zombie-infested hellhole, Chris maintains a good humor about himself and a lot of the situations he gets himself in are  entertaining as hell. There's one absurd situation, for example, involving a friend of his and a case of zombie-enhanced STD which I'm not sure can adequately be described other than it involves the words 'zombie-enhanced STD.'

    It's black humor but it's HILARIOUS.

    While I suggest the author see about getting himself another cover made, I think this is actually one of the better zombie novels I've read this year. It will irritate some readers for certain elements and they should consider themselves warned about the aforementioned objectionable content but the characters are extremely likable. I loved the Wild West and Las Vegas settings. I also loved the plotline. The ending is a bit, well, apocalyptic in an otherwise aversion of the trope but otherwise entertaining.

    I give it a solid 9 out of 10.

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