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At Hell's Gate is a new anthology of stories by a group of authors primarily known for their work with zombies for Permuted Press and edited by well-known editor Monique Happy and James Crawford (who also contributed a story to the anthology). The editing is great, and I found very little that I could pick at. As is usual, the stories run the gamut of tastes and styles, but I'll do my best to hit each one.
Black Crow Laughing by Devan Sagliani covers events in his Undead L.A. universe and recounts the events of two young kids in love as they try to survive trapped in a zombie-surrounded shed. The main character recounts how they came to find themselves there and then describes their eventual attempt to escape. The story is good, providing both action and character development in equal draughts. It's one downfall for some might be that it's the kind of zombie story you've read before, but that is not going to be a bad thing for hardcore zombie fans.
The raucously titled Exploding Shit Zombies by Stephen Kozeniewski adds some flavor to the events in his novel The Ghoul Archipelago, and fans of that book will notice a few nods to it. The story is fast-paced and humorous in a way that I think many will enjoy. It also makes an interesting point or two about zombie biology and how hordes of a different kind might form, which I liked. It's a little short on character development, but it's too enjoyable for the reader to really care. One of the top stories in the book for me.
No Shelter by Lesa and Matt Kinney delves into their own Dead, but Not for Long books and details a group of bikers and homeless people who try to protect themselves from a burgeoning zombie crisis. I have not read this book series, so I cannot comment on what it adds to their lore, but as an outsider there were a lot of characters to follow. I was not a big fan of the general writing style personally, though it is decently written. The dialogue also did not work for me in whole, but I suspect that there are plenty of people who will like it. The pacing and plot are good, but not quite distinct enough from the typical NotLD scenario to really grab me. To a degree, you can't go into an anthology expecting to click with every story, but I try to remember that just because I did not like the story does not make it poorly-written. I'll give the authors some credit for subverting the usual trend of bikers as bad guys trope that we often see in zombie novels. Furthermore, the main character is far from infallible and as the reader I felt like he actually feels bad about some of the choices he made, which was an accomplishment for the writers I think.
Ollie Ollie Oxen Free by Shana Festa is an addition to the Time of Death universe and chronicles the attempts of one of Emma Rossi's nursing friends as she attempts to escape the growing zombie crisis. The story is good and adds a bit to the lore of ToD, particularly since I had wondered what had happened to Ollie after reading Induction. The pacing moves the story along at a good clip and the writing is entertaining. The tone and style of writing are in keeping with ToD, which is good for those who liked it. It's not quite my speed, but as I said, I liked the story all the same.
Nefarious by Stevie Kopas is the origin story of Moira from her Breadwinner Trilogy and her attempts to come to grips with the apocalypse. Though I've not read her books, this story was good. The characters are sketched out well and those we're not supposed to like feel appropriately evil and detestable. Overall, it was enjoyable as a standalone, and likely welcome for those who have read the series.
Home Defense By James Crawford expands on the Blood Soaked and Contagious series and follows two men as they attempt to protect their neighborhood from the unique and foul-mouthed dead of those books. While it's an entertaining and well-written story, I'm not sure that I got all I could out of it having not read the books. Regardless, as a standalone, it was a fun read.
Stories From the Apocalypse by J. Rudolph is an internal recounting of events by a young woman caught up in the zombie holocaust and her reconciling the decisions she's made. Though connected to a book series that has not yet been released, which bears some problems as possibly spoiling some of the surprises contained therein, it is a well-done character exploration that weightily conveys the mourning and regret the narrator's regret about some of the choices she's made. If the whole book is as good as this book, it ought to do well.
Next is Journal of the Undead: The Beginning by S.G. Lee, from his upcoming Journal of the Undead book. It tells the tale of a young Army doctor sent to a secret military facility in the steamy jungles of South America. As time goes on, though, he finds that things are more than they seem. I enjoyed this story – the action and pacing were good, and the characters were likeable. Not only that, but it brings a much-appreciated change of scenery from suburban America as the backdrop for it's story. I'm a bit picky about military based stories, just because of my interests and reading on the subject, but this one does a decent job of getting a feel for it, though it might distract some. There are a few times where the dialogue doesn't feel quite right, but they're easily overlooked.
Hour of the Beast by J.M. Martin has the distinction of being the first non-zombie story of the bunch, and it retells the story of a young pregnant woman as she tries to find out why her once-doting husband has become cold and angry towards her. The writing on this one is good, and the medieval, fantasy tone of it is handled well. Definitely worth a read.
The Err Apparent by Tim Marquitz follows the devil-related monster hunter of Demon Squad fame as he attempts to hunt down a shadowy killer stalking around a small New Mexico town. This one is great – it has the horror and humor feel of the TV show Supernatural, and the action, pacing, and characters are all engaging. This story did exactly what it set out to do: it entertained, but also made me want to seek out the author's other work as well. A top choice for me.
Cracked: A Deadland Saga short story by Rachel Aukes tells of the remnants of an Army platoon attempting to escape Des Moines, Iowa after it's been overrun with the dead and before it gets bombed into dust. As the title suggests this is connected to the Deadland Saga books. This one did not quite do it for me; not because it was badly written or unentertaining, but the characters as soldiers did not feel quite real. I'm certainly no expert on the subject, but it just did not feel right to me in terms of lingo and attitude. There's not a bad story in the book, however, and I certainly did not feel cheated of my time to have read this one.
Undead Britain by Frank Tayell is a story in his The Evacuation world and tells of a woman's trials as she attempts to flee a zombie-infested London with her family, and her determination to keep a promise to someone no matter the cost. This is another decent story, and it's well written, but personally, it did not quite grab me and suck me in as some of the others did. The characters are well-defined, however, and for those who like a lower-key less action-y zombie tale, they'll like this one.
The Weight of Darkness by Sean T. Smith occurs in his Wrath universe and covers the exploits of a small special forces unit trying to navigate through a disease and madness-riddled Europe (the Vatican in particular as it so happens). Anyone who has read my reviews of the first two books in this series will not be surprised when I say I liked this story. Lean, balanced, and enticing the reader with just enough information to want to read the next book in the series. Anyone looking for a non-zombie, non-EMP apocalypse story should go right to this one like I did. Then go read Objects of Wrath and Children of Wrath. They're both worth it.
Jacqueline Druga finishes up with a trio of stories The Husband, Seth, and The Fertile. Each is quite distinct from the other – the first is a Tales From the Crypt-type story of a fed-up wife who kills her husband in a very unique way. Seth is the story of a minor psychic who's asked to complete a task for a strange young man and reaps an unexpected rewards as a result. Finally, The Fertile tells a story of a young adventurer trying to slip unnoticed through the realm of giant alien Gods in order to help his people. Druga knows how to write characters, and for that she's become popular with many. I tend not to get into her stories personally as they tend to fall more into the drama vs. action realm which I'm more drawn to. That's not to say that the stories are bad though, and some readers will definitely enjoy that her stories are all a bit more subdued than the zombie apocalypse or hunting demons.
All-around it's worth the meager asking price particularly considering all the authors donated their time and talent to the anthology for nothing in return. The stories are all entertaining in one form or another and many of them expand on universes that the reader may already be familiar with. In a few cases it may spur them to check out something new.
I was actually really pleased with my purchase; so much so, that I may have found a few new authors and a new genre to sink my claws into. Because there are so many stories involved in this anthology, I will just tell you a few that really caught my attention and tell you (as spoiler free as possible) why.
Time of Death Perspectives: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free by Shana Festa is a story about a nursing student name Olivia, Ollie for short, trying to survive a sudden zombie outbreak while searching for her on again/off again boyfriend Eddie. It is hard to imagine myself in the world Ollie has been thrust into, but I found myself relating to Ollie's plight. The twist at the end of this story waged a war in me. The HEA girl in me and my darker side fought to reconcile with this tragic tale. As a short story, this tale had an absolute ending. Still, I was intrigued enough to add Mrs Festa to my list of authors to look for in the future. Her writing pulled me in and I am willing to read more about the world she has created even if Ollie might not have a part to play.
Nefarious by Stevie Kopas was another tale that brought out the evil in me. Moira Eckhart is a privileged rich mother who seems to have lost all her marbles. Set in the world of the undead, we actually see very little of the world outside of Moira's upscale suburban home. Until the zombie apocalypse, Moria never seemed to notice her two children. With the end of the world destroying her materialistic life, Moria finds comfort in a fantasy world where she isn't the terrible mother she has always been. I found myself reading about Moira and, although I could never relate to her insanity, I loved how rational she was throughout the story. Her twisted mind found some peace in caring for her babies, even if fulfilling their needs should have trigger some moral alarm. As a short story, I found myself truly enjoying Moira's character, but I don't think I could read a whole novel inside of a mind as sick as hers. Lucky for me, I read the info after the story and learned that Moira plays a small part in a much larger story. I hope to read more about her insanity and what other great characters this author can conjure up.
Journal of the Undead: The Beginning by S.G. Lee is a rich tale about a young Lieutenant and 'soon-to-be' doctor named George Mitchell. George takes on a top secret assignment, his first assignment, deep in a rainforest where the military seems to be fighting some unknown enemy. Kept in the dark, Dr Mitchell starts to learn about this unknown enemy and the truth is far worse than rebels with guns. The dead are rising and no matter how many men leave the base to quell the rising numbers of infected, their efforts seem to be in vain. I loved the world created by this exceptional author! I felt all Dr Mitchell's emotions as he worked out the mystery beyond the walls of his camp. He faced moral dilemmas and his intelligence proved to save his life more than once. When the story was over I wanted more and I was pleased to learn Journal of the Undead: The Beginning is the start of a new series which is scheduled to be released later this year.
The Hour of the Beast by J.M. Martin is quite a creepy tale. I won't go into detail, except to say I could see this unusual short fitting right in with all those old Twilight Zone episodes. The ending taunted me, leaving me with more questions than answers and I do appreciate a good mystery to keep my mind spinning.
The Err Apparent by Tim Marquitz is much closer to my normal read. A tale full of humor, magic, and demons, I found myself right at home within this story. I loved the unexpected ending as well.
The Weight of Darkness by Sean T. Smith stood out among the so many others, for me, because of the strong, badass Sonja Larson. As a avid reader of Urban Fantasy, I love a tough warrior woman in my stories. Sonja was definitely that, yet I still saw the softer side of her and got that tiny bit of romance I always crave in my books.
Jacqueline Druga proved an exceptional storyteller with her three very short stories which were all original and very well written. Each story verified Druga as an author who has the potential to excel in various genres. I intend to look for more of her work in the future.
Welcome to Hell by Sharon Stevenson was another story which made me feel right at home within this anthology. A strong, independent female who just happens to be a demon tracker … yeah, I am in! Of course, her brother seems to be the protagonist of the story and he is more of a sidekick to his overachieving sister. The dynamic between the siblings was fun and I do believe I will be looking into the series behind their short adventure!
Overall, this group of short stories has something for every fantasy reader & gives readers a chance to meet an amazing group of authors!
Most recent customer reviews
I enjoyed quite a few of the stories.