Better Hero Army, Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment (Storyteller Press, 2013)
First off: if you’re going to use a pseudonym, at least make it sound like a human being’s name. Otherwise, you might find yourself releasing books under a name like Bolaji Worldstar77. Or Sunshine 44. Or Better Hero Army.
That aside, how’s the book? While it’s not without its problems, it’s a solid start to a trilogy, though I’m wondering whether there’s going to be a payoff given the end matter. But more on that later. The plot: Tom and Gary are brothers from Denver. When they were younger, during the initial phase of the zombie apocalypse, Tom—who was far too young to do so at the time—was put in charge of protecting his sister, Larissa. He didn’t do so, and as a result has been an outcast in his family since. (We are never told Tom’s age at the present time, but I don’t believe he’s out of his teens during the events of the book.) Ever since, Gary has made the rounds of the zombie trading stations, looking for evidence of their lost sister at their father’s orders. This year, Tom is old enough to take over the search, so Gary is showing him the ropes. Following a horrible accident, however, Gary and Tom get separated. Gary makes it out of the trading post on the last ferry, but Tom is left behind with a small band of survivors, one of whom is a zombie half-breed. Instead of searching through records, Tom is about to get hands-on experience traveling through the wasteland searching for his sister, while the survivors try to figure out how they’re going to get back to civilization.
First off, the good: the author has a pretty solid idea of how to write a (very short, but still) novel. His characters could have more depth, especially the minor characters, but he’s ahead of at least 90% of the pack as far as not making them complete cardboard. There are the inevitable red-shirts, as in any zombie novel, but the major characters all have at least some filling out. The pace is solid, and it’s not a book that starts off fast and just gets faster; this is another very promising aspect of the novel, and one that many beginning authors, especially in the horror genre, overlook. Also, he obviously thought about things, probably before ever putting fingers to keyboard. This has the feel of a constructed novel, rather than something written by the seat of the author’s pants. That is increasingly rare in the days of CreateSpace insta-publishing.
Not to say the book doesn’t have some drawbacks. The dark side of the author’s pacing ability in the slow scenes is that the action scenes are sometimes marred by overdescription, which slows them down and makes them less thrilling than they should be. There are some odd character traits, both in the case of dumb decisions (at the beginning of the novel, after Tom learns about Midamerica, why doesn’t he tell Gary, since a quick trip there might save them years of research?) and places where what we learn about the characters’ thinking simply doesn’t make sense (Tom grows closer to Penelope as the survivors make their way inland, so why, in one brief scene, is he suddenly terrified of her? And why does he go back to being protective and, let’s face it, infatuated a few paragraphs later?). These questions point out the difference between an editor and a proofreader; it’s obvious the book was gone over with a fine-toothed comb by someone who knows proofreading and knows it well. From a mechanical standpoint, this is nearly professional-grade work. But an editor isn’t just a proofreader; a good editor will catch those logical inconsistencies and point them out to the author. Usually in red pen.
Still, those are brief, and thus relatively minor, concerns. The ending is a touch more problematic, as I alluded to at the beginning. Other readers have mentioned the abruptness of the ending, and while reading I put that down to this being the first part of a trilogy. However, the author’s afterword states that the second book in the series switches over to a new protagonist. If we don’t come back to Tom and this crowd in book three, then yes, those other reviewers definitely have a point worth making. The upside here is that this first book is definitely good enough for me to want to grab the other two books in the series and find out. ** ½