Robert Johnson was out for a hike when a stranger ran up and bit a chunk out of his arm. It’s a strange behavior, but Johnson patches himself up as best he can and heads for home–Detroit. When he wakes up, he sees the news–there’s a weird infection out there, an infection that comes to be known as zombies.
When I was in fourth grade, I discovered the wonders of the novel Watership Down. OK, I know, hard to believe…but I was a pretty advanced reader for my age. Although the political and social undertones that permeate the book escaped me at the time, I was completely drawn into the story of survival. By the time I reached the end, I had completely forgotten that I was reading about rabbits.
This same sense of would happen a couple of years later when I read Animal Farm. This time around, the book was discussed in a classroom setting, so the pertinent points of the work were well-drilled into my brain. Even though reading and knowing the title was essential for a passing grade, what resonated with me is that for the second time I had forgotten that I was reading about animals and had developed a feeling for these characters as if I were relating to humans.
OK, let’s get one thing straight here. I am not comparing Calkins-Treworgy’s Shambler to these other two works of literature. I don’t think I could realistically convince anyone that this will be the next great American novel. What it IS however, is some of the best escapist fare you’re going to read and probably have read in a long time, and I can pretty much guarantee that by the time you finish the novel you’re going to forget that you’re reading about zombies.
Poor Bob. You know you’ve had a bad day when you go for a hike, get bitten by a guy who runs out from nowhere and end up coming down with an infection. If that weren’t bad enough, waking up in your home in Detroit and finding out you’ve become a zombie isn’t exactly the high point of your life either. Then there’s the whole people-trying-to-kill-you thing. And the hunger. What makes it worse is that it turns out there is a heirarchy of zombies, and Bob finds out he’s actually one of the high-functioning members of the society. Conflicted between his former life and his need to protect his fellow zombies, can Bob find a balance that brings him both fresh brains and a satisfying life-after-death?
There are two types of undead stories that never seem to get old: vampires and zombies. The only problem is that where authors continuously bring something new and defining to the vampire genre, the same can’t be said of zombies. Pretty much every storyline runs the same: strange viral outbreak leads to undead creatures wandering around in search of brains while frightened humans run for their lives. The formula hasn’t changed at all.
Until now, that is.
Calkins-Treworgy has decided to approach the story from a whole new perspective, that of the zombie. In Bob, we have a character that we can sympathize with whether he’s a human or as a zombie. We don’t want him to get bitten, but at the same time we don’t want to see him destroyed either. Partway through we’ve completely forgotten about the fact that he’s a flesh-eater, and we become only interested in his survival.
The added twist to this work is the discovery that there are different levels of ability in the world of zombies. There are the mindless drones that only seek out their next meal, there are those that function a bit higher, and then there are zombies such as Bob who retain all of their mental faculties but find themselves trapped in a zombie body. Eating humans helps to heal a damaged zombie, with brains being the ultimate cure-all. Bob finds himself in a bit of a quandry. If he feeds, he becomes stronger but less mentally aware. If he skips meals, he weakens but can think through potential actions.
The center of the story is really about Bob trying to escape Detroit, and help save some of his zombie compatriots along the way. Outside of that, there isn’t really a whole lot else going on in this ebook. There is a brief zombie love interest, the adoption of a zombie dog and plenty of human-munching to satisfy any fan of the genre, but the heart of this work is Bob trying to grapple with the identity of who he was versus who he has become.
There is also a ton of humor to the work. Although some of the scenes are serious and will make the reader stop and think a bit, many other scenes will also make you laugh out loud. Whether it’s figuring out that zombies have to go to the bathroom, the perils of walking an undead dog (and potentially being responsible for unleashing the disease on the entire human populace), ruining perfectly good clothing or zombie secretaries who still think they need to make coffee, readers will have themselves a good laugh a la Shaun of the Dead with the ebook’s edgy and intelligent humor.
The only drawback to the novel is that it really feels like an introduction to a series without a whole lot more to it, but there are other titles planned. In fact, most of the book feels like a beginning, without a lot of rising action. Three quarters of the way through, the work moves from feeling like a setup of a series to some real action, but then hits with an ending that’s a bit weak. This is not a novel that can really stand on its own; the ending leaves the reader hanging a bit. I remember thinking to myself, “hang on…isn’t there another chapter? It doesn’t quite feel finished.”
I don’t think there will be a middle ground with readers. Either you’ll read Shambler and be so swept up in it that you’ll want to continue to future novels, or you’ll feel you got a big enough taste and that’s enough. I’m one of the people left wanting more.
The Bottom Line:
Smart, witty, thought-provoking and very well-written, Shambling is a must read for either fans of the genre, or people who are looking for a work that falls outside of the typical mold. Don’t necessarily look here for the Next Great Novel, but if you need to unwind with a good read that lets you ease up on your troubles, then this is the right work for you. More titles in the series are planned, which may help ease the “ended too soon” feeling the work has. You’ll forget you’re reading about zombies, and find yourself rooting for the undead to whomp all over the living. You’ll cheer as another brain gets devoured. This is a refreshing new twist on an otherwise tired, and will leave you as hungry for more as a zombie looking for brains at the Fox News Network.
MOTOR CITY SHAMBLER is published by BooksForABuck.com, and is available in multiple formats for purchase and download at their site.
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