February 28, 2010

Kings of the Dead (Review): First Edition

KINGS OF THE DEAD is now available in a a new REVISED AND EXPANDED edition.


Kings of the Dead (2009)

by Tony Faville

First Edition
CreateSpace: 2009


3.5 / 5 zedheads

FULL DISCLOSURE: I consider Tony Faville a friend. I know him, his wife, and several of the people from the Mail Order Zombie podcast fictionalized in this novel. We've killed many a zombie together in Left 4 Dead 2 and slain many a trivia question in Xbox Live's 1 vs. 100NOTE: This review only pertains to the unrevisded and unexpanded first edition of the novel.

Tony Faville is a zombie fan, through and through. Unlike in other zombie novels, however, so are his characters. How do a group of survivors who were fans of zombie fiction and films deal with a real zombie apocalypse when it happens? Will they make the same mistakes they criticize films for making or will their knowledge of zombie fiction help them survive a zombie reality?

In Kings of the Dead, a novel by first-time author Tony Faville, the answers to these questions are explored and take some emotional twists in the form of a journal documenting one man's attempt to survive a zombie invasion and protect his friends and family.

Noticeably rough around the edges and lacking some of the finesse seen in works by more experienced writers, Kings of the Dead nevertheless has a heart and sense of story, emotion, and genre that gives the novel a life lacking in most other first-time fiction. The book starts off rocky, insecure, and unsure of itself in style and voice, but the writing grows stronger and more confident, interestingly, as the narrating protagonist of the story becomes more mentally fractured and questioning of life's value in a post-apocalyptic world.

Be warned: Kings of the Dead comes out of the gate committing one of the cardinal sins of fiction that most writers are warned to avoid: self-insertion. Kings of the Dead takes the form of a journal in which author Tony Faville imagines himself, his family, and friends as the protagonists in a zombie PAW (Post-Apocalyptic World). The novel is a collection of journal entries written from the point of view of Tony about his life and experiences in surviving an undead uprising. Authors are generally warned against self-insertion, either overt or disguised, because self-insertion tends to promote egoism, characters without human flaws, and stories that culminate in wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors. Except for some characters that become a little too bad-ass and a conclusion that trends uncomfortably into wish-fulfillment, Tony Faville uses his fictionalized autobiographical journal to counter self-aggrandizement. Some might argue that that Tony's persona in the book is a little too well-equipped for the zombie apocalypse, but in real life the author served in the US Navy, worked in the medical field, computer industry and even as a professional Chef. He has a wealth of knowledge and training that would be helpful in a survivalist situation. To balance out this over-preparedness, Faville wisely focuses on his and others' own emotional and mental under-preparedness for the zombie apocalypse. At the core of this book is one man's perspective on the the mistakes we make, the grief we feel, and vulnerability we try to hide as our communities unravel under stress and the threat of extinction.

As I mentioned previously in this review, the book is rough around the edges. Grammar, typos and sentence structure sometimes works against the author's intentions, but these gaffs also work for the author by giving the novel a sense of legitimacy and genuineness. An average man writing a journal periodically during a post-apocalyptic zombie invasion as a means of keeping sane is not likely to edit himself or proof his pages for publication. In this sense, the style feels very conversational and ultimately very personal and confessional. This style cuts through some of the pacing / structural issues of the story to strike at the reader's heart.

The story is not structured in away that gives us terrible insight into the secondary characters beyond Tony-as-narrator/hero, but this trend corrects itself halfway through the novel when people separate, die, and begin to roam around the United States. Characters become fewer, giving us a better opportunity to connect with the smaller roster of survivors Tony is writing about. It's in this later trend of the novel that more post-apocalyptic and adventure-genre influences (games like Fallout 3 and films like The Road Warrior) creep into the story to supplement the zombie tropes.

I think Kings of the Dead is the perfect novel for passing the time on long trips. With short chapters, a direct and conversational style, and a narrative that takes its characters from Oregon to Cuba, there's rarely a dull moment. If the moments are dull, they don't last too long. Despite its flaws and an ending that should have ended two or three entries sooner, I was thoroughly engrossed in the novel, especially during its second half. 

Kings of the Dead is well worth the small price to pick it up in paperback or as an e-book for the Kindle. What it lacks in finesse it makes up for in sincerity. Zombie fans wondering how they would fare in a zombie apocalypse should read Kings of the Dead, a zombie journal by a committed fan of zombie media.