William Jones, Pallid Light: The Walking Dead (Elder Signs Press, 2009)
My first thought upon finishing this book was "I wonder if that subtitle was put there by Jones or by Elder Signs Press". It just doesn't fit. It's grammatically awkward, and while there are zombies in the book, they are more plot device around the characters than they are main attraction (think Robert Kirkman more than, say, Greg Solis). Because of this, I wonder if some of this book's readers are going to be disappointed that there isn't more zombie action. That said, I was not one of those readers. I've had some bad runs with micropress novels recently, and Pallid Light was quite a welcome change; it throws a few interesting twists into the origins hypothesis, it gives us solid characters and realistic (within the frame of Jones' world-building) action, and it comes to a satisfying climax. Tell me again why Ben Tripp is publishing on a major label while William Jones is on a micropress who can't get books into libraries to save their lives?
Plot: Rand Clay is an ex-con who's moved to the small town of Temperance, Illinois, in search of a fresh start. The town won't let him have one, though; he'll always be "the murderer living out at the old boardinghouse." He's got one friend in town, the lovely if slightly cracked Cada, but everyone else looks at him as if he's going to start shooting up the general store at any minute. Cada lives in the next apartment over, so when the world goes insane, it's pretty easy for them to get together. And the world does go insane. A country-wide, possibly global, electrical storm, coupled with strange lights in the sky, knocks out the town's electricity, floods most of its streets, and causes the dead to get up and start walking. Oh, those silly dead folks. Rand and Cada, helped by a recently-deceased neighbor's car, decide to high-tail it out of town, but they keep getting distracted by such things as the need for supplies, the discovery of other survivors (not all of whom wish them well), etc.
Jones starts throwing twists at you almost form the get-go, which serves to keep things interesting while staying within a stable convention (the biggest twist is that zombism is not transferred via bite, which server to amp up the action at the cost of horror; this is much more an action novel than a horror novel anyway). The characterization is solid, though given the variations on the theme, I wish Rand had been a little less conventional than he is; he's your typical bad-boy-makes-good hero. Cada is a much more interesting character, and shows what Jones is capable of, and Rand's reactions to her are the strongest part of his make-up. The minor characters are, for the most part, just right; enough individuality to make them easily-distinguishable without going into their entire life history (as, say, Stephen King often does).
Looking for a good old-fashioned action book that just happens to include zombies? You could do a lot worse (and trust me, I have) than Pallid Light. *** ½
on July 20, 2010
I wasn't very impressed, and to be honest I didn't finish it. The main character didn't really hold my interest long, and the zombies themselves were so peripheral it was hard to get invested in what was going on.
Mostly it was just arguing between some convict guy and some "John Lennon" guy, and I got bored super fast.
Save your Zombie bucks for something else.
on June 14, 2010
The book wasn't exactly bad but it wasn't that good either. I liked the main character but the book just kind of wandered around aimlessly for 301 pages. A lot of the time the characters are doing stupid things and quite frankly I am still not sure what the shades controlling the zombies were trying to accomplish. Although the author seemed to give it a good try and some parts of the book were entertaining, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend the book.
on March 20, 2010
Sometimes an author gets a great idea that he can't translate onto paper. William Jones the author of Pallid Light is without doubt a talented writer and a proven award winner. This was the first book I ever read of his and I have to say it was a major let down.
The biggest reason Pallid Light didn't work for me was the main character Rand. The story is told in the first person from his perspective. This can be a risky thing sometimes because you are making the reader see the entire story through one set of eyes. He is an ex-con with a history who tries to make a life for himself in a small town in Illinois along Lake Michigan called Temperance. Jones writes this guy in the worst possible way by constantly reminding you every two pages that he is a convicted murderer/ex-con. He makes the character sympathetic and more like a hero by explaining that it was justifiable homicide but even with that revelation, it comes off two dimensional. The character is such a cliché that you roll your eyes every time he has some story from his hard life. All the references to his harsh upbringing in Detroit are laughable. You can tell the author did not spend much time (or do any character research) on the mean streets of Detroit. It makes you wonder if he had ever been there. Also, every new character introduced in the book that lives in Temperance knows about Rand's history, so every one of them reacts to him like "ooooh he is a bad person". Let go of the convict thing already! We get it, tell the story! I don't need to see every character judging him for being criminal! One or two would be enough! To be fair, he does write Rand as a very sarcastic character, which kind of works. But what really bothered me were these constant moral dilemmas that Rand had at every point of action in the book. I.E. Rand says why do I bother to try to save this person or I should just leave, and so on when he has to be a hero. Of course, he always reluctantly does the right thing (like we didn't expect that). When I read this, I really didn't feel this character as real, it read like the author trying to write this in the first person pretending to be an ex-con. Overall, this character comes off being a bit of a cardboard hero and the colorful criminal background comes off dull, pallid and boring.
The plot itself is a nice twist on the whole zombie apocalypse. A mysterious storm comes up one night that is oddly electromagnetic in nature and the dead rise from their graves. The living are compromised as well and these mysterious shade creatures threaten to possess and change people into zombies. The premise is a bit of a twist on what Brian Keene did with The Rising but it works ok for the purposes of the story. Usually, you are safe writing these types of stories one of two ways: 1) you explain why the dead rise in great detail. Brian Keene did this with great effect in The Rising with the government experiment that goes wrong and things from another dimension come in to take over the bodies of the dead. His villain, OB, is not shy about letting the reader know what the dead have in store for everyone. 2) You don't explain it at all and just hint at some possible causes. You then just let the action write the story. Jones picked option #1; however, he did not have a great villain to carry the story. Terrance and the mysterious Shades are the main villains in the book. The Shades work, but Terrance doesn't. Terrance is a cop that was compromised and taken over and is leading the army of dead in Temperance. He has a group of thugs (lead by Jimmy) round up the people of Temperance for reasons that are never explained in the story. You never see Terrance directly confront the characters and that leaves your main bad guys as the Shades and the head thug Jimmy. The Shades are just as described mysterious and shady, so no help there. Jimmy is just a redneck guy who bullies and fights with Rand. So what you are left with is Jones taking a solid enough plot idea but failing to develop a strong antagonist to drive the story.
The other characters in the story are just downright boring as well. Cada, the love interest who is the only one who understands Rand, is flaccid and not at all interesting. She is written to remind Rand of his conscience and to be rescued at certain points. To be fair she does some rescuing herself but this is not a feisty and interesting character. The cop, Paul, is just a badge walking around to butt heads with Rand. Cada's friend Nate, who started off kind of interesting but was not developed enough and the characters that come after him are very forgettable.
Finally I have to take issue with William Jones doing poor setting research. He sets this story in the fictional town of Temperance, on the Northwest shoreline of Lake Michigan in Illinois. Of all the states on the Great Lakes, Illinois has a very small lake front (well maybe Indiana is smaller). So lake front property here is at a premium and of the few towns north of Chicago on Lake Michigan are either suburbs or very affluent suburbs. Even some of the less rich towns on the lake (Zion, Waukegan, and North Chicago) are still suburbs of Chicago and not these dead end small towns. Since I grew up spending a lot of time in Lake and Cook Counties in Illinois, I really could not get past this. I think you would have to search pretty hard to find red necks or small town folk in that part of Illinois! There are no dead-end small towns in Northwest Illinois! Waukegan and North Chicago are kind of rough along the edges with some crime issues but they are still suburbs of Chicago. The fact he lives in Michigan is really aggravating because he writes Temperance like some smaller towns along the lakes in Wisconsin or Michigan. He tries placing Temperance a few hours away from Chicago. If you drive an hour and north of Chicago, you are in southern Wisconsin in the Kenosha/Milwaukee metro region (suburbs). That whole part of the lakefront is suburbs (with a few state parks mixed in). The author writes Temperance like the smaller towns that are in Wisconsin and/or Michigan that are along the lake. Please, Mr. Jones the next time you set a story look at a map first and read about the area or at least spend some time there. Jones would have been better off setting the story in Michigan or Wisconsin, it would have been more believable to me.
on February 15, 2010
Scared me to near-death. Couldn't put it down. Riveting, fast-paced, grabs you and won't let go! This is the kind of book that should be made into a movie. It is beautifully written and you very quickly come to identify with the characters. Do not read alone - but read for sure!!!