American Revenant: Hometown Exodus by John L. Davis IV is, without a doubt, my favorite zombie book of the year. That’s basically it, all I have to say. I’ll elaborate more, but that’s the take home message. At $0.99 (that’s ninety-nine cents USD) you can’t afford to not own this book if you’re serious about zombie fiction.
…Okay, so you know me better than to assume that I was actually done, but the point is that I could be. I’ll give you the tldr version first: This novel hits the ground running with enough action to keep me actively engaged from the first few pages on. There was never a dull moment, either in terms of what was going on, or in terms of the word choices that Davis used. The dialogue between characters is realistic and seamless, unlike the extended monologues or useless banter-driven conversations that frequently are used to kill time or narrate occurrences in place of actual description. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the fact that Davis is able to so completely describe the various elements of the world his characters live in from how much they know (or don’t know) about the zombie plague and how the infection started, to how long they have known one another and been in the town. If I don’t read the next book in what (I both assume and hope) will be a series, I will never forgive myself.
I love the implementation of actual camping and weaponry research. These are people who were planning for a big SOMETHING, whatever that something may be, and by God when it happened they were prepared! These characters had a contingency plan that spanned years for what to do in the event of an emergency and they stuck to it. It worked! These people weren’t caught off guard. We don’t have the token ‘oh no, what do I do?’ people that always make me want to snap. If you’ve been watching the Zombie Apocalypse Defense Force Facebook page you’ve likely seen this image:
and while it poses a great point, this grievous logical error is not present in American Revenants. The characters actually have heads on their shoulders and it’s WONDERFUL. Not to mention the fact that Davis actually incorporates other living people into the mix. When the world is suddenly swarmed with violent, cannibalistic mobs, not everyone is going to want to share resources and play nice. I appreciate that Davis (I think realistically) portrays what some of those less than kind individuals might behave like, and the actions that would be necessary to protect loved ones in such a situation.
I started and finished the book in one night, that’s how good it is. I couldn’t put it down. Every moment was interesting and action-fueled, if not an action sequence or literally based on a fight. Beyond that, Davis’ writing allows you to get a sense of the community and family that is shared by his characters. Perhaps this is just my faux-southern blood talking, but I felt like I bonded with the characters simply because I knew how much they cared about one another. They were from a small town, Hannibal, and being from a small town myself I can appreciate the sense of friendship and family that comes from being closely associated. (Plus, these folks had a disaster plan. Surely planning on spending the end of the world with people would make you closer to them/get to know them more!) Also, though you wouldn’t expect it based on the genre, Davis is funny! Several of his comments, or the remarks of his characters had me cracking up. It isn’t just a piece filled with mindless violence.
Writing Style 5/5 & Writing Flow 5/5
I will refrain from using the word ‘love’ again in this paragraph, but do understand that it would be appropriate to say that I adore Davis’ writing style. As I mentioned above, his word choice was excellent and his written conversations and interactions flowed naturally even during intense scenes. I feel as though I said most of what I intended to say about the writing style and flow in my earlier sentences, so I’ll instead leave you with some of my favorite phrase selections.
(About the speed at which some of the group rode bicycles into town:)
“Despite the need for urgency, the men rode at a leisurely pace. These were average people, with bad backs and sore knees. They were not soldiers.”
(Regarding a Mark Twain impersonator who was now zombified:)
“Wearing the white coat and black tie used in his appearances as the vaunted Mark Twain, a local actor now lurked the streets of Hannibal, a hungry and deadly creature. The wild unruly white hair, and thick blood stained mustache lent the un-dead man a decidedly creepy aspect.”
One thing that I will mention is that I caught a few grammatical/typographical errors in the book, but there were so few I scarcely remember them and discount their ability to detract from the story.
Character Description 5/5
Physical description was less important for many of the central characters, but their personalities shone through to such a degree that I didn’t feel it necessary to detract from the character description score. There are, as you can see in the above Mark Twain impersonator example, several instances where Davis does describe several characters in great detail. This shows that he has the capability, but rightly chooses not to bog down his otherwise almost fluid novel with unnecessary adjectives. I don’t need to know what every person’s facial structure looks like, or what each person is wearing in order to firmly grasp who they are and what their involvement will mean for the story line. I can invent characters in my head just as well by decoding their personalities.
Scene Description 5/5
Both the physical scenes and the actions within said scenes are wonderfully descriptive. When grass is present, the reader is aware of its height and how many decaying bodies are within it. When our heroes are riding their bicycles, the reader knows just how fast and why. Decisions are made within the group by discussion, which serves the purpose of further displaying the characters as they interact with one another and also letting the reader know what is going on and why they have made the decisions that they have.
If you aren’t positive by now that you should pick up this book then clearly there is no convincing you. Perhaps you are already a zombie.
Edit 2/26/15 American Revenant: Hometown Exodus author John L. Davis IV has a Go Fund Me page to support marketing for the second book in the series, American Revenant: Settlers and Sorrow. To see the cover art for the new book, get details on what exactly he’s trying to accomplish and (if you’re feeling generous) contribute to the cause, check out the above link.