"Megan Pritchard stretched and yawned. She was only two hours into the graveyard shift, and she had already served three customers. The first had been a laid-back, beer-drinking trucker, the second, a German who reeked of tequila and had trouble keeping it up, and the last, a wild-eyed, fifty-something man who smelled like a dirty ashtray and wouldn't take no for an answer. Number four, another trucker, was in the bathroom washing up. She sighed and ran her hand across the bed, smoothing the comforter. The toilet flushed.
The Elements of the Undead: Omnibus Edition contains all three books in the trilogy by William Esmont. Those three being Fire, Air and Earth. I'm going to explain a little bit about each one (without giving too much away) and then conclude with my thoughts on the series as a whole.
But first, a little background. The Elements of the Undead Trilogy is a horror series (though the horror is pretty tame considering the plot. I would call it more of a thriller/ adventure). A zombie apocalypse breaks out at the very beginning and we're brought along with the characters as they react and absorb all the information and struggle through each situation they're faced with.
I'll start by saying there are a few graphic scenes, such as zombies eating people or sex scenes, as well as course language. If that's not your cup of tea, you have been warned.
In book 1, Fire, we meet quite a few pivotal characters who, step by step, are brought together. First we have Megan Pritchard- a prostitute who works in a brothel in the desert, four hours outside of Vegas. She is planning to visit her sister in Tucson when the zombies start appearing.
Meanwhile, we have very brief snippets of Alicia (who is more of a secondary character if that), working in a supermarket, when she witnesses a zombie attack outside the store.
We then switch to Jack and his wife Becka in New Mexico, who have two twin daughters, Maddie and Ellie, who are in the process of building a birthday surprise for their girls, when Jack's mother calls telling him to look at the news.
Then there's Cesar, the illegal immigrant from Mexico, crossing the border with a few others into the States in the hope of making it to Kansas.
We then switch to Kevin Salerno, who has just landed in Idaho returning from a business trip to Shanghai.
Then along comes Captain Mike Pringle, flying a Boeing with his co-pilot Marty Sellers, when one of the passengers goes rogue and starts attacking people.
Switching again, we meet Peter Woo, a devout Christian who believes the apocalypse is the Rapture come again.
Finally, we meet US Navy Commander Betty Hollister, who is the first woman to ever command a ballistic nuclear missile submarine in the Navy and her second in command, Andrew Pollard as they receive a message from HQ to bomb certain cities in the US to try contain the zombie plague.
So you can see we have quite a few characters to keep switching between, but somehow the author makes it work. Bit by bit, we get brief, little snippets of each group before moving onto the next, slowly revealing more and leading them all, inevitably, to the same place. We are given more information about a few particular characters more than others. In the first book, I would say the key characters are Megan, Jack, Cesar and Hollister. With Mike, Peter and Andrew adding specific important plot points.
However, as you can imagine a lot of the characters (if not all of them) end up in sticky situations and we're not always given the details of how they manage to escape. For instance, hopefully this won't be a spoiler, but Mike is in the cockpit of the Boeing. The last thing we witness of him before he crops up again later in the story, is a zombie banging against the door trying to get in. They're 30,000 ft in the air. Yet, we never receive any explanation of how he survived or got to where he was. Or what happened to anyone else on the plane. This happens for a few characters, but it's understandably considering how many of them there are.
In this case, having that many characters actually works in the story's favour. Normally, I would say too many characters spoil the broth. They just make it confusing and distract from the main "flavours" you want people to experience. If done wrong, it can destroy a book, but if done right, like in these books, it creates the necessary viewpoints to get across the different reactions people would have and allows the author to mess with their brains the way it would in real life. Think about it, a zombie apocalypse breaks out. What are the odds everyone (providing they survive long enough) would keep their sanity. We all have a very different way of dealing with problems, especially one of this magnitude. Some people will harden up and become the nearest thing real life has to action heroes, some people will fold and lose their minds, some people with end it, rather than face the alternative. Those are just a few possibilities because the mind is so complex that you can never really predict how someone will adapt (if at all). That's where having a large cast plays to the trilogy's advantage. Not only can we get multiple reactions, but it also lets the author write some of the characters off without leaving too small of a cast behind.
Pretty much all of the individual stories happen simultaneously, giving us a view of many different parts in the States. We don't ever hear much about the rest of the world, all we know is that zombies are global and likewise situations are probably happening everywhere.
In Fire, we get some information about the zombies themselves. As pretty much anyone who has ever heard of a zombie knows, they can come in many different forms, with many different strengths. In this trilogy, we have simple, traditional zombies. They lumber along (with the exception of radiation-poisoned zombies (courtesy of all the bombs dropped on the States via Hollister's orders), who can sprint), are often missing limbs, organs or anything else, their vocabulary is restricted to moans and growls and you can only kill them with a headshot. They also travel in packs. Oh, and when food is scarce, they're cannibals.
While we're never given any concrete reason for zombies appearing out of nowhere, it is suspected that "zombiefication" happens from some kind of virus or disease. The victim starts off with symptoms similar to the flu and then quickly becomes aggressive, before converting to complete zombie. It's quick and deadly. It also spreads surprisingly fast, in fact, the virus went global in only a few hours. Also part of traditional zombie lore, one bite is enough to turn you, with the added complication that any of their fluids (saliva, brain fluid, etc) can infect you as well- if they get into your bloodstream. So when you're fighting for your life, make sure to keep your eyes and mouth closed and cover any cuts or scrapes. They have no blood though, so at least you don't have to worry about that too. Unless of course you have to kill a human who has been bitten, to stop them becoming a zombie. Though most of the people in this trilogy keep a spare bullet for themselves in that eventuality.
As the story progresses, we witness two survivalist camps forming (with a few stragglers on the side heading their way). On one hand, we have the Scorpion Canyon group in Tucson. A relatively laid-back (considering the situation) group, who are looking out for everyone's best interests. On the other hand, we have an aggressive group, run in military style. The two groups deal with the living dead and the people in their confines very differently. The first group survives on raids and equality, while the second struggles under a dictator for a leader, who is quickly losing the plot, but still desires power, authority and complete loyalty on penalty of death.
As the two groups become aware of the other's existence, tensions run high as one group wants to co-exist and the other wants absolute dominance over everything and everyone.
Throughout the books, there are some nice quotes from the likes of Robert Frost and Ezra Pound (among many others) which make for some pleasant, figurative palette cleansers between scenes.
Now we come to book 2, Air. An original and unusual idea for a second book, Air has almost nothing to do with the first book and at only 10,000 words long, it's not a format I've ever seen in a series before. The only similarity in plot is the zombie apocalypse. But I found it an interesting way to backtrack and introduce a new character, without confusing the readers or relying on flashbacks.
In this book, we meet Chris Thompson. Using another not-often-seen technique, the author places us in the middle of his story, without even a name to go on. Though considering this book is only 10,000 words, we're pulled up to speed rather quickly.
It starts off with him on the roof of the Liberty Medical Centre, holding off a horde of zombies with the aid of a rather feeble door. He's contemplating what he believes are his final few moments and the choices he made earlier in the day to end up at this point.
I won't give too much away (especially considering the length of this book), but it's suffice to say he came to the hospital to visit his brother, Dave, after he was in a car accident. Of course, considering how the virus starts (remember the flu symptoms), they have the bad luck of being in the exact worst place possible. What's the old saying? The worst place to be sick is in a hospital. This is quite a while back from the main story (a few months back in fact), as we return to the very beginning of it all.
Short and sweet, Chris' story continues and ties in with the rest in the final book, Earth. There will be a few spoilers from the previous books below here (nature of a series I'm afraid), so if you don't want to know, stop reading now. If you're interested in the series, why not try it out? Final warning for spoilers below.
Set three years later, not much has changed. Zombies are still everywhere. There are less survivors than before and those still around are more savvy than they were at the start.
Straight away we're introduced to yet more characters. Ryan Franklin, his wife Paige and their 14 year old son, Luke. They live in an underground bunker in Arizona, courtesy of Ryan's brother-in-law Mitch persuading him Armageddon was approaching. Unfortunately for Mitch, he never made it to his own bunker. The only other members of their community are Jim, his wife Felicia and Jim's father, who live in an adjacent bunker.
Megan and Jack return, along with another new character in the form of an ex-military retiree, Archie Henderson. They are planning to move the Scorpion Canyon group to another canyon across the valley, where they'll have more access to water and food.
Immediately, we can see that something is different in the zombies' behaviour. They are gathering in swarms much larger than previously seen and all seem to be waiting for a command. They are now almost impossible to fight (due to sheer numbers) and are advancing upon all compounds.
The Franklins are forced to decided whether to stay and fight an impossible battle or try to escape in their car, while a wave of zombies fast approaches. Meanwhile, Megan, Jack and Archie are still in the wilderness trying to survive more zombies than they've ever seen.
Not surprisingly, the two parties eventually meet up. Drawn together by necessity, they discover something that leads them to believe there is another survivalist group in Tampa. Deciding, it would be best to find them, they start the long journey.
As we start to learn more about the newcomers, the unease builds. As it turns out, Paige was on antidepressants long before everything went under and it's no surprise that zombies all over the world have put her precariously close to the edge. Dealing with a woman who only has brief moments of lucidity and a rapidly weakening grip on reality, while trying to survive impending death, is enough to make anyone nervous.
Chris Thompson also returns with a brief explanation of the last three years. He and a few other survivors made their way to Galveston and then onto one of the oil platforms in the Gulf. Their group has been slowly growing since and (apart from storms) they are kept safe by the sea. The sea also provides plenty of food, they gather water from frequent rains and the generators provide ample electricity. Surprisingly, they also have internet. Some satellites are still functioning it seems, allowing them to keep a check on storms in the area.
With zombies such a dominant presence on the planet and the number of living people dwindling by the second, is there any way to win or even to simply survive?
The way these books are written is less like three books made into one story and more like one story made into three books. What I mean by that is that the plot flows almost seamlessly between one book to the next (with the exception of the second book for obvious reasons). Within the plot, the timeframes change often enough that even with the 'three years later' subtitle at the start of the third book, it could well have been part of book 1. It would even be possible to make it all one book without making any changes. What I'm trying to say is it's less episodic than some series. There's no obvious end to one book or beginning of the next, more just the start of the next scene. And I enjoyed it being like that. Often in series, the later books will be set some time after the previous ones and we get a lot of backtracking and flashbacks to fill us in. While we do get a little filling in at the start of the third book, it's done in a way that could've taken place after the end of the first. I actually didn't realise I was on the third book until I finished the series.
The ending is a little abrupt and leaves no real conclusion. But then considering that the zombie apocalypse has broken out, there are very few ways to give a definitive ending, short of killing all the survivors.
However, there are also a few unanswered questions. One, what happened to Hollister's group? The last we see of her she went stir-crazy, was drugged up and killed her second in command. Did she end up destroying the group through sheer ineptness? Did the zombies attack them at the same time as Scorpion Canyon? Did she kill everyone and then die herself?
The final niggling question is the zombies themselves. In the third book, the idea that they're under command is introduced, but never expanded on. They seem to be getting smarter or are waiting for orders from a leader, but it's never explained.
I don't know whether there were ever any plans for another book (perhaps Water based on the previous titles?), but I would've liked that plot point to go somewhere.
Having said that, I did thoroughly enjoy the series. While I'm not always a fan of gore, it's handled well here. It is graphic, but not too graphic. At no point did I find the huge cast of characters confusing or distracting and they were all given surprisingly detailed situations considering the amount of time we had with each one. Each of their survivalist stories are basically the same, but then they would be. A zombie apocalypse breaks out and your first instinct is to get away from the larger cities. To try to find other people. To bunker down and try ride it out. And that's exactly what they did. While the stories are similar, they're all given just enough individuality to make them interesting, rather than reading the same scenario ten times.
If you're a fan of zombies or dystopian worlds this series will be right up your alley. I breezed through it and, before I knew it, was at the end.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.