Jordan's Reviews > Fire

Fire by William Esmont
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bookshelves: firstreads-and-other-giveaways, horror, pulp-fiction

I received the omnibus edition of the first three books (or two books and a short story, which is more accurate) in this series via the FirstReads program with the understanding that I would review it. I'll post a composite review for the omnibus as well, but here's the first of my three individual reviews.

I went into this book with low expectations. I have a weakness for zombie films (and now literature), but even I can recognize that it is a sub-genre mired in mediocrity. Sure, there are a few shining examples of revolutionary ideas well-executed (World War Z, for example) but the vast array of entrants into the field are cookie-cutter tales that offer at best mindless entertainment. That's all well and good, so far as it goes, but the reputation of such fiction is that the quality of the writing is pretty poor across the board. I was trying to keep an open mind, but feared I would have to unleash my mean-reviewer side on this one.

After the first dozen chapters or so (they're short), I was pleasantly surprised. The first part of the story was decently well written, and Esmont did a good job of creating and introducing a host of interesting characters. Were they all complex? No. Did I like all of them? No, and that may have been intentional, especially with regards to the villains. But I was interested in them. Is it a sign of good or poor writing that I could tell which of the characters were going to turn out villainous? I'm frankly not sure, so I decided against weighing that fact in my star rating. At the halfway point I was planning to give this four stars--maybe a bit overly generous, but I like to be more generous with up-and-coming writers than I would be with, say, Stephen King.

Unfortunately, I was much less impressed with the second half. We leave our cast of characters to fend for themselves for a few weeks, then catch back up with them. This is fine in most cases, with POV characters who can recap how they got from point A to point B, but a couple POV characters from the first part only appear from others' points of view in the second half. This leaves a number of questions, especially for one character in particular. What happened to young Peter's girlfriend? Did he ever get to her house? How did he escape his zombified mother? We are left without these details on the plot, let alone what is going on inside his head. I for one would very much like to know how he's handling the new world, and at what point the young idiot figured out that the Zombie Apocalypse was not, in fact, the Rapture. Throw in a plotting problem I'll discuss in a moment, and my impression is sadly that Mr. Esmont wrote the first draft, hit his desired length sooner than expected and so left a building conflict unvisited, noticed that he had improved as a writer since he started, went back and rewrote the first half, then published it. By the time I finished this first book, my star rating had fallen back down to a three, which I feel is probably still a bit generous.

Plotting: the whole second half of the book a conflict is brewing between the small band of survivors made up of most of our characters and the sociopathic military commander determined to carve out an empire who is heading right towards them. Unfortunately for us readers (though fortunately for our survivors, I suppose), (view spoiler)

Zombie literature/films have a number of conventions that you don't mess with--most sacrosanct that you have to go for the head. These are largely intact here, although there is an inexplicable scene with a severed hand continuing to attack a character ala The Evil Dead. That's not how it's supposed to work, and it doesn't work that way outside of this particular scene, so it was mostly a random moment that jarred me out of the story.

Would I recommend this as some mindless entertainment? Sure. Just know what you're in for, and don't invest too much expectation in the ending. I fully expect the quality of this series to improve....we'll see if that's just wishful thinking or not. EDIT: It was not. While far from perfect, the rest of the series was free of the major flaws described here.

Reviews for Book 2: Air and Book 3: Earth

Obviously this isn't for kids, so the language and violence shouldn't be a surprise. There's also a high level of explicit sexual content, though, so be forewarned.
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Reading Progress

August 30, 2013 – Started Reading
August 30, 2013 – Shelved
September 2, 2013 – Shelved as: firstreads-and-other-giveaways
September 2, 2013 – Shelved as: horror
September 2, 2013 – Shelved as: pulp-fiction
September 2, 2013 – Finished Reading

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