Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Last Resort: A Zombiecide Novel by Joshua Reynolds - Book Review


'Hordes of zombies threaten to wipe out all of mankind in this first action-horror novel set in the exciting (yet horrifying) world of the Zombicide games.

'The zombie apocalypse has driven humanity up into the Airondacks. Enter Westlake, hardened career criminal on the path of “the Villa”, a legendary mafia hideout where he can escape the devastation. When he’s ambushed by the undead, an old FBI “friend” and his squad of survivors rescue him… and then force him to reveal his secrets. The jokey myth of the Villa suddenly becomes salvation for the settlements scattered around Saranc Lake. Reluctantly, Westlake is saddled with an oddball team to navigate mine fields, trip wires, and flesh-eating zombies at every turn to find their safe haven. Shame there’s already someone living there…'

Zombie fiction has had a recent boom in popularity over the last decade or so. This has been due in part to the success of certain films and television shows boosting the undead back into public consciousness. And whilst the creatures might be less used in film and TV now than they were even a few years ago, one place they're always been popular is gaming. Whether its table top or video games, zombies have been a great way of mowing down enemies guilt free since forever.

One of the games that makes particularly good use of zombies is Zombicide, a series that has produced zombie survival board games across multiple settings, including fantasy and science fiction. Because of the breadth of settings that Zombicide uses I knew as soon as it was announced that Aconyte Books were going to be producing fiction for the series that we'd be in for some interesting stuff. And whilst there has already been a sci-fi setting announced for one of the upcoming books the series is starting off with a foot in the more traditional zombie story camp by giving readers a modern zombie tale in Last Resort.

Last Resort tells the story of Westlake, a professional thief who gets double crossed by a mob boss and so agrees to give state evidence against him to send him a message not to screw with him. Unfortunately for Westlake, Sal has a couple of his goons grab Westlake in order to make the problem go away. Driven out into the woods to be executed, things take an unexpected turn when the living dead appear, killing Westlake's assailants and giving him the chance to escape. But the dead aren't just here, they're everywhere, and pretty soon the world as we know it comes to an end.

A few months later Westlake has headed out to Saranac Lake, where he knows Sal has a hidden hideaway called 'the Villa'. After being picked up by a group of survivors, including an FBI agent, a biker, and a masked luchador, Westlake convinces them that the Villa offers them the best chance for survival. Now Westlake puts together a team of misfits in order to find and take the Villa, so that the survivors can get a safe place to live, and so that Westlake can take what Sal owes him.

Where so many zombie stories feel dull and dour, where the characters are barely managing to survive and just trying to make it from one day to the next, Last Resort feels a lot of fun in comparison. The story is a little bit ridiculous, and it seems to know that it's a bit silly. The characters range from fairly average to completely over the top, and there's regular bickering and sniping between the team that leaves it all feeling a bit tongue in cheek. And this works really well.

The book felt like a lot of fun because of this. It felt strangely light at times, which is amazing considering it's the end of the world and people are barely surviving. I think a large part of this is that the book didn't try to be anything beyond what the game is. It looked at the strange mutated zombies and the bright and colourful player characters and it embraced that completely. The end result is a book that will not only avoid blending into the crowd of dull and depressing zombie stories, but will stand out from the crowd because of its sense of fun and weirdness.

A lot of the time with zombie stories you know that the vast majority of characters are going to end up dying, and so you try not to get too attached to them. In this case I found it really, really hard to avoid that, as the characters were so much fun that I couldn't help but find them wonderfully engaging and entertaining. Even when the characters are bickering an fighting with each other there's small sparks of wit and humour that bring the scenes to life in a way that I wasn't expecting. I wanted more time with the characters, and even though it's not a short book it felt a lot shorter because I wanted to hang out with these people more. The only down side to this is that when some of them die (sorry, spoiler warning) it actually felt like a loss and left me feeling sad.

With there being so many zombie stories set in the modern day, seeing a group of survivors coming together to try and reach a supposed safe haven I did wonder if starting the Zombicide books with this kind of premise would lead to the book feeling dull or overly familiar; but I was completely wrong. It took a theme and a story that I'd seen done a lot and put a whole new fun spin on things. Now I'm even more excited to see what else the Zombicide books will do, and how wild they're going to be.

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