On a day like any other, Jim Blackmore finds himself at ground zero of the zombie apocalypse. He is forced to run a blood-soaked gauntlet through a city overrun by an insurmountable horde of the dead in a desperate attempt to reach his wife and two small children. As he fights to get home he discovers that the living are just as dangerous as the dead. But does Jim have the strength of will to survive the perilous journey?
After reading over two dozen zombie books, comics, and short stories for Zombie Apocalypse Defense Force and for my own amusement, I’ve begun to get a solid feel for whether or not the author of any given zombie book has been a long time zombie fan or if they have simply jumped on the bandwagon to sneak a taste of a popular horror niche’s appeal. (I have stopped reading several horror manuscripts after starting them because it was evident that the author wasn’t in it for the right reasons.) Let’s be honest; horror and zombie fans tend to take our interest seriously, so it’s vital that in addition to being a superb writer that an author who wants to be supported by zombie fans also have a vested interest in zombies as a threat or at the very least a phenomenon. The good news for me, and for anyone else who is considering reading The Infected: Jim’s First Day (JFD), is that Joseph Zuko is clearly one of those few heavily invested writers. You don’t adopt ‘Zombie’ as a nickname and start your own zombie-themed shop out of a passing fancy. The book’s preface claims that the author’s love of zombies came from a reasonably early start – with the second Resident Evil game. (Granted, that isn’t Night of the Living Dead early, but it’s certainly earlier than The Walking Dead as presented by AMC. I mean no disrespect to TWD fans, obviously, I’m just highlighting the different eras of zombie fandom.)
Entertainment & Writing Style: 5/5 & 5/5
JFD is a funny, clever, action-packed adventure into a middle-aged family man’s normal life turned zombie apocalypse. Zuko’s writing style is a first person narrative from the main character Jim’s perspective, and his approach to storytelling is conversational. The reader spends the bulk of their time “in the moment” with the character, so they get to experience his thoughts, anxiety, surprise, and everything in between right along with him. What starts out as a story about a family man and just another work day quickly becomes anything but an ordinary, hum drum story. The humor style of Zuko’s writing reminds me a bit of the writing from Shaun of the Dead because the narration can be hilarious while still giving the impression that any humor is completely incidental due to its seemingly dead pan delivery. The monologue simply continues along to the next point without an obvious delay in plot or action that implies that the author is giving the reader a moment to catch onto a punch line.
Unlike Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright’s film, however, there is a great deal of violence and action involved in JFD. Certainly a lot more than you see in the film. As an example. The alert to Jim and the reader that anything is out of the ordinary is a hospital helicopter crash into a nearby Jiffy Lube. Explosions which rival the cinematic style of Michael Bay occur and then suddenly the reader is engrossed in the bloody, gore-filled adventure that makes up the rest of the book. Of course the book isn’t all fighting, clever lines, fiery crashes, and zombies which are missing chunks of flesh or vital appendages, but even if those were the only attributes of the story there is enough meat on those particular bones to keep me satisfied for several hundred pages. I’m sure many of you would feel the same.
Rather than relying on existing zombies to scratch, bite or otherwise wound the living in order to turn them – all someone has to do in order to become a zombie in Zuko’s universe is die. You read that right. Get a piece of metal through your chest in an auto accident? Yep, you’re coming back as a zombie. Fall off a roof and break your neck? Yeah, you’ll probably be a zombie, albeit your head may be a bit droopy. Get shot? Sorry about your luck, we’ll see you again in a few minutes because you’re about to turn into the undead.
All of the recently published books that I’ve read have completely abandoned this ‘sucks to be you, the only option you have is to survive if you want to survive’ approach to a zombie outbreak.
Beyond ditching the standard ‘zombie as infection’ plot line, Zuko earned some of his originality score from choosing Krav Maga as the self-defense style for Jim to practice. Granted, Zuko himself is a practitioner of the Israeli self-defense system, but he still gets credit because it appears so infrequently in zombie books. After doing a bit of research I found that Krav Maga, at least on paper, sounds like a surprisingly effective defense strategy during the zombie apocalypse. Krav Maga encourages students to avoid confrontation, to finish fights quickly by targeting the weak areas of their opponent, and remaining hyper vigilant to their surroundings – does that sound like an effective general approach to encountering zombies, or what?
Writing Flow & Character Description 5/5 & 5/5
Due to the narrative style Zuko employs, the story is able to flow very smoothly along with the normal passage of time. He doesn’t feel the need to hop about in time, either forward or backward, and it isn’t evident to the reader at any point where a writing session might have stopped or begun. Even the chapters seem to fit together seamlessly, with each event transitioning smoothly into the next. That isn’t to say that in terms of plot that there aren’t bumps, snags, and distractions along the way – but in the writing itself readers should be able to relax comfortably. (As comfortably as one can when reading a horror book, at least.)
One thing that Zuko does significantly better than many first time writers is describe. The characters in the story are almost as real to me having read through the book once than I’m sure they were to Zuko as he dreamed up each one. Description is especially important in books which rely heavily on dialogue or inner monologues in order to progress the story and keep events and ideas flowing smoothly. Without the detailed character descriptions Zuko offered it would have been very simple to lose characters and concepts without realizing their full potential or growing attached.
The Infected: Jim’s Frist Day by Joseph ‘Zombie’ Zuko was an excellent debut novel from a writer who is more than capable of producing more high quality work which is why I’m eagerly anticipating the other volumes which will inevitably follow this strong series start! If you have a Kindle Unlimited Subscription through Amazon the book is available to be read for free, and without KU it is only $2.99. If you need a thrilling zombie book in your world, this may be it!
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