Monday, January 23, 2012

Title: Zombie Wonderland
Author: Piper Vaughn
Cover Artist: Aisha Akeju
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: paranormal
Length: 34 pages

Nothing says Christmas like droves of the undead…

All Emery wants for Christmas is someone to share it with. It looks like he might finally be getting his wish in Ross, the sexy customer he’s been crushing on for months. But neither of them counted on the zombies, or on being caught in the worst blizzard in half a century. Even with a plan for contending with the zombie hordes, surviving will take a miracle.

It’s not exactly how Emery dreamed of spending Christmas with Ross, but he can’t think of a better way to spend a zombie apocalypse.


Emery’s just hanging around the empty diner on Christmas Eve, waiting for the moment he can lock up and go home. The holidays aren’t terribly cheery for him: he’s alone, and even the handsome customer hasn’t shown up. Ross has been in every day for three months to write, fortified with pie and coffee. When Christmas rolls around, they’ve barely gotten to the “what’s your name?” stage.

Everything happens very fast. Ross turns up, pursued by the very quick-shambling undead. Emery’s role seems to be in slow motion: while Ross has already figured out that something is dramatically wrong and he’s got to move if he wants to survive it, Emery’s stuck in “wait, what?” even after he watches a zombie nearly kill Ross on the diner floor.

The contrast between fast-reacting Ross and disbelieving Emery is pretty stark. Ross does what he must to win through to safety; Emery tries to process what he’s seeing and experiencing, then getting bogged down in asthma attacks and nausea. For two guys who barely know each other, all the danger has to fast-forward the relationship, which they’ll have plenty of time to explore if they can just reach the cabin out in the country.

No one knows how or why the zombies have appeared; the focus is on the two men who are trying to escape the hordes of flesh-eating undead. The zombies are pretty danged lively, too: they run, beat on windshields, snarl with rage and eat whoever they can catch. The horror of them is strong, because not only are they relentless and hungry; they are fast.

Emery would have had no chance at all without Ross, who takes care of him during and after their flight from the city, and refrains from exasperation when Emery does something really dumb; he just fixes the problem. A little too good to be true, and his odd collection of skills don’t quite match the bookish exterior. There are a lot of unanswered questions about him, and no place in the story to explore them, not while they’re running, and not in the collapse afterward.

While I could see the solidification of a budding relationship in the face of danger, I just wasn’t convinced by the great vault from a waiter serving a customer without any conversation to Ross’ wish for Emery to spend Christmas with him. That they’d do it accidentally because of the zombies would make sense, but they’d never had a first date or even a real conversation, so Ross’ plans of a holiday together before the zombies came along seemed really premature. That they’d draw together in the face of danger was sweet and almost inevitable.

It may be that there is a sequel planned, because this does have the feel of being only part of the story arc. What’s here is good, just unresolved. 3.5 marbles

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