Ginger Nuts of Horror
A zombie novel doesn’t need many of the elements that most other novels require: tight plot, character development, believable dialogue. They’re nice things to have when you can find them, but when you’re reading a story of men vs. zombies, you want brain-splattering action, frights, and horror.
In Insurgent Z: A Zombie Novel, you get the brain-splattering action, and that’s it. The dialogue is stilted, the characters wooden, the descriptions repetitive, and the writing generally amateurish throughout. Even with lowered expectations in a horror field filled to the brim with zombie stories, Insurgent Z has little to offer. Which is a shame, because it had a lot of potential as a cautionary tale of military experimentation gone haywire.
From the very beginning, Insurgent Z had massive dialogue problems. When the characters weren’t speaking in huge infodumps for the benefit of the reader, they tended to just emotionlessly blurt out statements of fact. For example, when two characters lock themselves in a diner’s utility closet to hide from zombies, one says to the other, “I don’t know what to do. We have some bottled water in here, so we are safe to hide out for a little while. If we stay quiet, then no one should bother us.” It reads as clumsy and robotic, especially without dialogue tags or descriptions of body language. Or, when one character talks about a zombie attack in which he had to kill an undead old lady, he says, “My life was threatened, and I had no other choice. She may not look like it, but that woman was strong. I was losing any advantage I had in the beginning. I had to kill her.” Do people really say, “I was losing any advantage I had in the beginning”?
If writers only wrote what they knew, we’d have a great many novels about selling overpriced coffee drinks and precious few about zombie attacks. I get that. However, it doesn’t mean you’re free from the burden of research into things you’re not familiar with. This is especially true in the Internet Era, where anyone can get basic knowledge about almost anything, including firearms. Especially firearms. The authors didn’t do their research, and as such refer to magazines as clips, mischaracterize basic military tactics, and erroneously state that frangible hollowpoint ammo (the long-discontinued Black Talons) are “cop killer” rounds. You need to know the difference between a cartridge and a bullet before you write about firearms. Do you have to be an expert? No. But a little research goes a long way.
There was a lot of action, but much of it was poorly described. During a zombie attack in a diner, we read, “She went to warn Florence, but it was too late. The woman pounced on the waitress like a jungle cat attacking an unsuspecting deer. The woman dragged Florence to the ground and fed savagely.” A good editor probably would have caught that. And, perhaps, the many other pieces like that. The novel was rife with repetitive, clumsy sentence structure and strained metaphors. I’ll never forget this unintentionally hilarious line: “The scientist wasted no time in turning on his heels and streaking away.” Nobody told me he was naked.
Character development, like the conversational infodumps, came in large, unpalatable chunks. The sight of a zombie child tied to a tree sent the protagonist Mason into a storm of weeping for an estranged son that had only been mentioned in passing once at the beginning of the novel. Later, Mason professes his love for the waitress Rosella, despite having only spent a few hours in her presence (with much of that time spent killing zombies). If character development isn’t going to be done well, through a buildup of narrative and events that reflect the characters’ inner turmoil, it is best left out entirely. Otherwise, like in this book, it just slows down the action.
Obviously, every book review is a subjective criticism of a piece of hard work. Horror heavyweight Jonathan Maberry wrote a blurb for Insurgent Z, and noted author Joe McKinney wrote the introduction. So one would assume that Insurgent Z can’t be entirely lacking in redeeming qualities. Nevertheless, there are serious, fundamental weaknesses in the novel’s writing, characterization, and dialogue. At the time of this review, Insurgent Z is available for free on Kindle Unlimited, so if you want to prove me wrong, give it a try.
Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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