Original Release Date: January 1, 2010
Publisher: Apricot Alliance
As a reviewer of “all things zombie,” I see a lot of the same types of stories come across my desk, with a lot of the same archetypes used for the main characters in these tales. Reluctant hero turned badass with conveniently perfect aim. Hot girl with no discernible survival skills who somehow manages to survive zompocalypse. Comic relief guy, most likely obese or minority. Plucky (read: annoying) kid who retains some form of childlike innocence throughout. (Insert crappy profession here) with a heart of gold. Odds are good that you know the “usual suspects” too.
Drew Brown’s novel “Last Hope” features a few of these kinds of characters, but where the tale really scores it’s bonus points with me (aside from the intriguing plot, which we’ll get to momentarily) is in the form of its main character, William “Budd” Ashby. Budd, quite frankly, comes off as more than a little bit of a jerk; he’s self-centered, cowardly, brash at times, and not much of a leader. Quite frankly, he’s one of the most realistic “leading men” I’ve ever come across in a zombie novel.
Budd is, to varying degrees, the kind of person the average man/woman would actually be in a situation like a zombie uprising. To give you a little background on what situation he finds himself in, allow me to give you a brief rundown of “Last Hope’s” plot. The story itself focuses on Budd and his exploits, starting with his escorting a scientist from a research facility in the Arctic Circle to a fancy hotel in London (Budd is a contract pilot). As a middle-aged, oft-divorced, loud-mouthed American (USA! USA!) staying in a five-star, full-service hotel overseas, Budd quickly finds himself in many a situation that becomes awkward for everyone else while he remains oblivious to it all. He finds himself miraculously at a dinner with a young, French pop star named Juliette, and after spending the night with her, he awakens to – you guessed it- the zompocalypse! The reader quickly realizes, however, that this isn’t your normal zombies-take-over scenario: there’s an odd, heavy fog over everything outside (heavy even by English standards, with visibility at about 15 feet or so), and the undead, who start out as just plain dead, seem to be getting faster and smarter as time goes on. The last two-thirds of the book are a rollicking ride involving enough action and undead to keep you turning the pages quickly, but it’s the unique elements of where the virus came from and how the zombies continue to act that really set “Last Hope” apart from other, more “standard” zombie tales.
“Rollicking…” that’s a fun word. I have a strong desire to use it again, so let’s rollick on into the Score:
G: General Entertainment –While the secondary characters in the story are interesting in varying degrees, it is truly the main character that drives this story. Where you’ll normally get a zombie tale that features the guys who are so testosterone-fueled they can’t wait to shoot, decapitate, or punch their way through the zombies, Budd is very content – scratch that, Budd actually desires to let the others in his group do the fighting while he stays as far away from danger as possible. I wouldn’t term him an “anti-hero,” per se – he does step up and contribute to the fights when absolutely necessary – but I took great satisfaction in reading him as a kind of older, less-in-shape version of Ashley “Ash” Williams from the original Evil Dead film. 8/10
O: Original Content – Without giving too much away here, I can tell you that Brown effectively weaves elements of horror, suspense, comedy, and a dash of mildly-confusing sci-fi mechanics into this story. Even though Budd is American, the vast majority of the remainder of the book is decidedly British; while some of the “phraseology” and slang may not perfectly translate to the American reader, it’s very cool to see a “foreign” take on events like these. 9/10
R: Realism – The book does fall into certain “plot gimmicks,” with the characters surviving many more close calls than may be humanly possible. Yet, things still maintain a fairly grounded feel; give Brown credit for not being afraid to kill of some of the characters the reader has grown to know. The conclusion – with a final scene that, I’ll be honest, left me a little wanting – is significantly different than the average ending, and I am vastly impressed with the author’s willingness to take a risk and tell it like it’s written. 8/10
E: Effects and Editing – The action and gore are plentiful, with many different types of zombies and ways to kill them prominently featured. While not written directly in the first-person, the book does follow Budd through the story, with many italicized “asides” in the form of Budd’s actual thoughts sprinkled liberally throughout the book. The effect is initially a bit jarring, with Budd’s diatribes ranging from one-liners to paragraphs full of “inner monologue” at a time, but it becomes second nature to the story as the novel progresses. The cover to the book is rather basic, but I appreciate the white cover in a sea of zombie books that feel the need to go for a darker color scheme in an attempt to match their story’s feel. The book is long, and the ultimate payoff comes very late in the story, so the “average” reader may lose a bit of steam. As mentioned in the “O” section, the book is written by a British author, and as such it features much of the English variations that are standard in Great Britain but present as a little “off-kilter” to the average American reader. Just to give one example, flashlights are referred to as “torches” constantly throughout the book, which is fine; my only complaint here is that Budd, written as an American, should refer to them as flashlights, but he calls them “torches” just like the rest of the cast. A minor quibble, to be sure, but one that is present throughout the book. 7/10
TOTAL SCORE: 8/10
“Last Hope” is a very distinctive read, an exceptional spin on the zombie genre that you simply will not find anywhere else. Brown has crafted an excellent story, and I for one look forward to reading what else he has in store for his readers.
And now, my friends, you know the Score!