Former Ranger Jack Smith watched an Army bio-warfare experiment go horribly wrong in an Afghan village in 2001, escaping only after he turned to a makeshift mace and bayonet to destroy the skulls of the infected creatures that bullets to the chest could not stop. With the traumatic experience seared into his mind, he earned his Ph.D. in ancient history and began developing medieval weapons-making skills after he left the service. When the virus broke free from the Hindu-Kush Mountains a decade later and rapidly spread across the globe, Jack knew how to fight the monsters created by the infection: 21st century technology combined with deadly medieval tactics and weaponry. Jack and his former squad-mates lead a resistance against a zombie apocalypse in a crusade to ensure humanity's survival.
*I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*
Jack and Carter meet in Afghanistan and witness a zombie outbreak which is barely contained. When returning to the US, both men begin work on a fortress capable of housing their loved ones with supplies to survive should the virus escape and come to their land. And then comes the day when the news reports a new pandemic outbreak in Afghanistan...
The book starts strongly with the outbreak in Afghanistan where Jack and Carter see their first zombies, going through the whole experience fighting together to survive. The book then jumps forward nicely to the completion of their fortess project ten years later, with the Castle ready. It is just in time as disturbing news reports catch Jack's attention and he knows that the virus has escaped and a deadly invasion of zombies is coming.
I liked the detail in the world building in the early days of the outbreak. It all happens just the way you would imagine it. We are with the men day by day as they watch the news reports, strengthen defences, gather supplies and start bringing their loved ones to safety. We then have Jack trying to help those in the local area, trying to convince the authorities to work with him. There is a lot of tell rather than show but the detail is interesting as we see the progress of the outbreak and how the Castle prepares for the coming war. The tension builds slowly as the zombie incidents get closer to them. I also like that the survivors are trying to keep quiet to avoid attracting the zombies and using old fashioned quiet weapons to do most of the battle with.
The other good thing about the book was the building of the three safehouses to house civilians who didn't want to remain in their homes, and having the response teams ready to go to the aid of those still in their homes when zombies invade the area. This leads to some exciting zombie action on a regular basis in the book, which nicely breaks up the described preperations. I found it all pretty interesting to read, and was looking forward to what the next problem would be. The action at the safehouses and the zombie attacks did not disappoint! I liked the fact that Jack made glaring errors in his planning which would happen when you're trying to man manage every detail and overlooking the obvious. It added in realism.
In a few reviews that I've seen, readers say that their main complaint was a lack of character development and I agree. Jack is our fully developed character as he is the hero, so we get a lot of what he thinks and does. I had no problem with that but sometimes it did seem to be all about him and nobody else. He is trying to be sheriff and organise a resistance movement but insists on being involved in every action incident ie the gas station attack. It felt sometimes that we missed the opportunity to get to know Bobby or the others because Jack kept dealing with it all himself and the team would arrive after Jack saved the day again.
This leads me to the lack of character development in the people at the Castle. Carter is the only fully developed character that we have due to him featuring at the start. We barely see Jack's family through this book and we only get to know a couple of the team members as the book gets to the end. I'd have liked to have seen more meetings and conversations early on with the major characters in the squad all talking, sharing ideas etc and leading the missions on their own, so we could get to know them better. I'd have liked to have seen Jack and his team spend time with their family, sharing a few emotional scenes with them. Again, we only get that in the phone call with David. It would be impractical to meet all the characters but I'd have liked a few of the characters running things at the Castle or on the teams to get more of a starring role. It would've added more depth and emotion, and could have taken the book up to five star status.
My biggest issue was the speed of romance with Jack and Andi. They talk briefly a couple of times and then suddenly they are kissing and in love. Having Andi become a major character first and having her spend time working with Jack and the teams first, then introducing romance in the later stages of the book would have worked better. The lack of dialogue between them meant a lack of chemistry. I do like Andi but I think it needed to happen slower to work for me. There are actually only a couple of characters outside the team that get enough page time to have us worry when they are in danger. There needed to be more of that so we can really invest in the main cast of characters. And if you plan to kill someone popular, don't do it off page as I too felt a bit cheated by that. It reduces the impact of the death to more of an afterthought.
There was a serious lack of dialogue in the book overall. We get Jack giving orders and explaining plans but there is no real conversation about normal things which means we don't get to know the people as well and don't really feel it when someone dies. Dialogue delivers emotion and impact and the book would have benefitted from this.
To sum up, I did very much enjoy the book. I liked the detail and world building, and the action scenes. I liked the overall plot and there is so much potential in this series going forward. The few niggles I mentioned about characters and plot issues were never enough to stop my enjoyment of the story, which kept me hooked enough to want to read the next one.
The authors have mentioned that they feel they improved the books as the series developed, based on feedback they got, which means I'm quite excited to see what changes are made and how it moves forward. There are already a good few more novels in the series and I'm coming to it rather late, so my niggles here might already be outdated opinions! Either way, I'm keen to read on! I would certainly recommend it to fans of zombie fiction.