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Hollow Shotguns Paperback – July 3, 2012
"Definitely not for someone looking for a cosy read. There are nasty things at work. You would also need to get used to the teen language Patel is using - a language these children use in their own communication. But this took me all but one chapter (being a woman of 40+ years). Not only a flesh-ripping apocalypse story, but very much a story of growing up, friendship, boys becoming young men." - The Pegster Reads Review
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I almost never review anything (books, restaurants, movies, etc.) that is subjective, because everyone's reading/eating/viewing experience will be different, but I have a bone to pick with Hollow Shotguns. I'm convinced this book is part of a conspiracy to sell terrible books by no-name British authors. Take a look at the other reviews, almost all of which ranked Hollow Shotguns as five stars. Then take a look at their review history. It's a giant circle-jerk of reviews for self-published, way-below-average crap. The reviewers and reviews even repeat themselves on Goodreads and if you browse the author's social media history, you'll see the same names popping up again and again.
Things I particularly didn't like about Hollow Shotguns:
- The dialogue is horrendous. It certainly "subverts the rules of language," and not for the better.
- The book takes place in America, yet clearly uses British slang, spelling, etc.
- There is no "throat-burning humour." There is no humor at all.
- The zombie plot is as trite as the genre has seen. The ending is vanilla and predictable.
There are plenty of amazing zombie apocalypse books out there; this is not one of them.
My first thought is that a book like this should never be published. Not in a cookie-cutter world of sequels and knock-offs. Not where Twilight and sparkly vampires rule pop culture can a voice and writing style so unique be allowed a chance. No, this kid breaks some rules and he breaks them across people's faces. This is no ordinary novel.
One thing that will strike you like the stock of a shotgun is the prose. The writing style is so unique that it immediately removes you from your comfort zone and places you in Patel's world and does so abruptly, just as the apocalypse would. One can only imagine Khalid leaving a wake of writing instructors, all of which pulling out their hair. Sit back and enjoy a bit:
"Cade observed the rundown abodes. The ambience altered the moment South Grove was speared, as if a cauldron beneath the borough amassed the droplets of satanic substances from the snarling syringes. Then when anyone traversed, the Grove retched the mixture as imperceptible mist. The prey abruptly felt agitated some, oblivious why. Yet the Grove knew. And soon it would harvest enough discarded joints, needles, blood drips for a most noxious concoction, spewing it as fog in the dead of night, blanketing slumbering dwellings, killing residents in dreams of drug overdoses, STDs. Nightmares of assaults, stabbings. Thenceforth the South Grove Beast would rise, crawl for every abode. Devour. One. By. One. Then- Wait, now it's getting idiota... thought Cade, scattering his reveries."
I mean, who writes like that? Who can keep up this insane style of prose for an entire book? It's like watching Anthony Burgess and Irvine Welsh club the shit out of each other with a thesaurus. My personal copy is dog-eared and lain waste with highlighter, as I've sat front row for this celebration of the English language, watching this man slay phrase as if it were hordes of the undead. Oh, and did I mention: ZOMBIES GET KILLED!
I won't go into detail of the plot, in order to preserve the experience, but it's about five troublemakers who comprise "The Set" - a group reminiscent of Alex's droogs in A Clockwork Orange - who find their community set to siege by, you guessed it: ravenous zombies. The imagery in this tome could take on the best horror novel and I strongly recommend it.
Riverstones City. A lower class neighborhood where hopelessness permeates the souls of everyone that lives there. In that den of despair is a group of four boys who call themselves The South Grove Set, who strive to watch over each other when they can't depend on anyone else, especially their families, who either abuse or outright ignore them. When a virus takes over the country, the four boys along with former bully Thump, must put aside their differences and fight in order to make it to a military zone. In the course of that journey, they learn much about themselves and each other and are left in the end wondering who they really are after experiencing such horror.
Author Khalid Patel's main strength is his ability to bend beautiful language to his will in order to create fantastic scene description. Another author, myself included, would probably come across as pretentious, or trying to hard in doing so. Patel is able to side step this rookie mistake, showing deep love and care to every word, every phrase he puts down. Beyond his set making, he is able to craft real, life like conversations between the boys, exploring the mundane things guys talk about. When the Set start doing Bruce Lee vs. Batman discussions after surviving a wave of "demons" it feels real because hell I'd probably do the same with my friends if we were in the same situation.
Patel also takes deep care in developing the five main characters with plenty of backstory. Mills, the youngest and percieved weakest, has probably the best home life, yet is mocked for his youth and enjoying activities (such as fashion channels) that his friends find less masculine. When he becomes the shotgunner of the crew, Mills' personality flips, being imbibed with power and purpose. Meanwhile, bully Thump is a product of an abusive father, who terrorized him into becoming a monster himself if it meant someone would notice him. He finds himself a sad, lonely person, but usually can only lash out because that is the only nature he knows. He becomes one of the most sympathteic characters of the novel.
While Hollow Shotguns is at its base level a zombie novel, a book about friendship, and a road trip story rolled into one, it has plenty of subtext to go along with it. The boys, once scared of the demons, become quite proficient in warfare and become to enjoy it immensly. Patel questions the effects of death, of causing death on the psyche, especially on the psyche of developing minds. The boys liken themselves to "child soldiers" at one point and say it with almost pride at first. It is only at the end, when they realize the scope of what they had to do, does the reality sink in. They are no longer The South Grove Set, a small band of youngsters against the tyranny of conformed society. They are killers, dyed in the wool, made so by the necessity of survival.
"To Stop a Demon one must become a Demon," a military official tells one of the boys at the end. That may be so, but one has to think of the cost of that transformation. As one of the boy looks into the eyes of a captured monster he describes the eyes of having nothing there, hollow. The reader is left wondering if the boy is actually describing a mirror image of his own.
A crackerjack of a read, Hollow Shotguns is one not to be missed. If you do, you're a fool.