Tuesday, July 31, 2012

DEAD: The Ugly Beginning, A Review

Zombies are everywhere these days, from the usual b-movies, to TV, to short stories, and lately even in novels. A lot of novels. But with such a deluge, authors are being forced to do the impossible: Reinvent a classic. Even traditionalists, honest-to-god-Romero-lovers are faced with the difficult task of surprising an audience that has been overwhelmed with pretty much the same beat-up story.

It is in this rarefied ambience that DEAD: The Ugly Beginning sets out to start a very ambitious saga. From the get go we are warned that we’ve been treated to the first of what will be a set of twelve books relating this particular zombie apocalypse. Then the action starts. The first third of the book is strong, plunging the reader right into the middle of the action. The characters are interesting, complex, and likable. Simply amazing. And the one-liners, Jesus! Brown is really at his best when crafting spunky dialog. The plot moves fast and there’s so much action, we can’t stop from turning the pages.

Brown’s characters are intelligent and act in a way consistent with their different backgrounds; they also make mistakes and pay for them dearly, which is a wave of fresh air in and out of itself. I found I was never able to foretell the next character that was about to die, adding to the fun.

As the story progressed, there were a few issues that took away from my original excitement. First, there are too many characters, some appear for a brief moment only to be dispatched by the undead, others are staples of the book which back stories are spread so far apart from one chapter to another, that we struggle to remember what was happening with them last time we came their way.

Also, whenever a character goes into a flashback, there is no change in the grammatical tense (say, going from past to present, for example) or point of view, and whatever is written in italics tends to change size from word to word, making the reading experience a bit confusing.

Now, I think there are enough clues pointing to a certain evolution in the zombie, though it is never clear and the characters don’t seem to pay attention to these changes. Is it possible that zombies can learn and are actually conscious, to some degree, of their situation? This would mean they have a low, but still threatening, degree of intelligence. It would certainly be a game changer and may send the surviving pieces of Human Race into a second purge that could very well end with it all. So looking forward to learn how well I read in between the lines!

Finally, I feel like I need to warn all the readers-to-be about the ending of DEAD. No, not spoiler alert should be issued, I’m not going to spill the beans about what’s going to happen to the most important character or ruin any possible plot twists. I just want you to know that DEAD, like so many serial books of our times, doesn’t have a neat ending with some sense of conclusion. It simply ends, leaving all plot lines open to continue in the second book of the series. And while it is a great selling strategy for your already captured audience, I wished we could leave this trend behind. What is it so unappealing about giving the readership some sense of resolution and still letting the door ajar just a bit so we can fathom what adventures may still await?

All nip-tuck aside, DEAD: The Ugly Beginning is a highly entertaining book. I loved the references to paramount pictures or phrases in the Zombie Lore, the sarcasm and intelligence of the narration, and the interesting plot ram-packed of action. I will be reading the second book in the series, waiting anxiously to know the fate of those fantastic characters I grew to love. Definitively a book to be read by every zombie fan who wants a bit of the classic with a lot of spark.

For more details about the book, click on the link.


Chris Fries said...

Excellent review, Gina. You give a lot of details without revealing too much of the plot, you provide insightful thoughts about the book, you give concrete examples of what you liked and didn't like, and you do it all in an entertaining and smoothly-written piece.

I agree with what you say about books that span a whole series -- I prefer it when each one is written so it can stand on its own, with its own story arc and plot resolution. The BIG story arc can span the series, but I just think it works so much better when each book has a legitimate beginning, middle, and end all on its own.

Gina said...

Thanks for your kind words, Chris. The first book that I'm aware of doing this hanging cliff of an ending is Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Since it worked so well for JK, I guess many other thought it was a clever way to ensure someone would buy your follow up book. I don't know, I guess it's been over exploited and I'm over it, but I truly don't enjoy it. =/ Anyway, hope your having an awesome welcome back to life after a holiday.

Anonymous said...

Of course I'm one to take advantage of a great review. Thanks for doing all the hard work Gina.