Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review: Six Days with the Dead

Six Days with the Dead by Stephen Charlick is a gritty zombie novel which contrasts the monstrosity of the Dead with the evil of the living. 

What this novel does well is explain vividly the state of things. For starters Charlick establishes that difference between wanderers and newly turned zombies is speed. He is also not afraid to limit his characters. They are unable to take on a motorway full of the Dead and see the danger in even tackling a small group of four. Charlick also isn't afraid to describe the zombies as they should be - a real creature of horror. Typically the appearance of zombies is commented on to elicit a reaction from the reader and/or the characters.  When there is a zombie child we feel pity and good characters may find they have difficulty killing it or it may make them remember a loved one. Charlick goes beyond this and gruesomely describes their state of decay where necessary. As I'm a fan of horror and gore so I enjoyed this detail. The inclusion of maggots, mould and putrid decay helps to create an even greater sense of repulsion in the reader when characters encounter the Dead. It also adds a greater sense of time to the novel which made it feel more real and reminds the reader that seven years have passed since the first Dead.

I found that I really liked the characters in this book, even those who were minor. I have a particular liking for Jackson. I did notice that in the beginning of the book Liz, the main character, is established seeming to care most for her younger sister, Anne. However, when Liz is out travelling, away from her sister, she doesn't seem to think about her sister as much as I would expect a weary overprotective sister would. This could have been done to avoid the narrative getting a little repetitive, but it felt as though she was simply forgotten for a day or two. Charlick did a good job of making the book seem, dare I say it, realistic. The world is grim, there is no knight in shining armour, even dogs turn on living humans, seeing them as meals and even a small band of 'heroes' can't save the unnamed victim. This is not an action packed hack and slash where the good characters can rescue everyone. Good, innocent people die and as a reader it sometimes feels as frustrating for us as it does for the characters because, given such tragedy, we just want that little slice of Lanherne heaven to grow and become normal. I'm pretty sure if Charlick had tried to create a happy book about rebuilding society it would have been dull. It's the heartbreak in this book which makes it a great read.

Charlick's decision to use the days to separate the book was clever. It meant a sense of solid time was always in place and I really like that. Often in novels the space of a day can feel the same as a few weeks. By reading this book I found that I prefer and appreciate shorter chapters. It means there's a natural break point where I can stop, put down the book, and pick it up later. So these six chapters felt pretty huge. I think this book could have benefitted from being split into days the same way some author's separate their books into books, volumes, or parts. Then having shorter, more manageable chapters, would have been a possibility. Regardless of this, the long chapters work in the sense that the reader feels how long and drawn out each day living in that world is and how much happens.

Unfortunately, I did notice a couple of typos in each chapter. It was a shame, but I'm the sort of reader who knows what the writer means, so I don't often notice typos unless they are glaringly obvious. After seeing the first few, however, I found myself on the lookout for more. This was a little disappointing, but I expected this from books published on Amazon.

The ending was, at times, predictable such as the death of Mohammad (he's the single twin, so he's expendable and I sort of thought this would be the case since he was first introduced) and the death of  Charlie (though I had hope it wouldn't happen!). The majority of the ending I didn't see coming. The evil of manically judging children and even throwing a baby straight into a pit of zombies, was truly shocking. I like how, while the evil characters are motivated by religion, Lanherne is a covenant run by Catholic nuns who, despite their religion, accept all newcomers. This helps balance out the religious element in the novel.

Despite the things I have mentioned which I feel hold it back from being a truly polished novel, I really enjoyed this gruesome read and the use of all senses to create an immersive world.

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