I have just had the chance to read the novel The Light Reapers: End of the World by Gary Hickman. Right off the bat, bluntly and honestly, I enjoyed this novel very much and I am grateful that Mr. Hickman sent it to me to read and review.
The “Light Reapers” are an elite special ops group of soldiers who have a history of missions together that have bonded them over the years. They are deployed to rescue a scientist who may be able to find a cure for a viral pandemic caused by an ISIS faction which turns people into vicious, flesh eating hordes who who kill for any reason and in every grotesque way you can imagine.
On the surface, the story of Light Reapers is not anything new. Zombies are a time honored horror tradition with a long, long list of media building their anthology of gnawing and feeding on flesh.
For broad strokes purposes, this is a zombie apocalypse story (I mean that in the best of ways) but this is not JUST a zombie story. Any time I read a story or watch a movie that fits into a well-known genre I ask myself two questions:
Does the story pay proper homage and stay true to the existing cannon we are all know and love?
Does the story bring anything new to the table to appropriately be unique within the genre?
To both of these questions, I would give The Light Reapers an emphatic YES. Hickman’s creatures stay true to the main tropes of zombie-ism, but they bring a whole list of new features that work extremely well within his story. The infected are not corpses or un-dead, they are zombies in the realm of “28 days Later” who are infected with a virus. They are fast, strong, durable, somewhat intelligent and intentionally sadistic. Yes, they are zombies and will fill that special place in your heart that craves the excitement of the un-dead, but they are a whole new breed, and I love it!
The novel is exciting, thrilling, extremely gory and there is no shortage of shockingly monstrous, disgusting (fecal-warefare, anyone?), and adrenaline-pumping twists in this “end of the world scenario.”
Also not new is having a military unit go in and save the day regardless of what’s bumping in the night. We have all seen it in countless movies or books or shows, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. We keep seeing it because it works! (Mostly) People are now looking for a more realistic team of heroes rather than Rambo going in and taking on a whole army (I mean, even Rambo has been using a team lately). Hickman does a great job with the “team hero” dynamic and that is what makes this story unique. His characters are likable, sympathetic, heroic, relatable,…basically, they are human. Hickman does a great job of giving each character their own personality and making us care and laugh and ache right along side with them.
They members of The Light Reapers are are complex, emotional and funny. They show the effects of stress, lust, anger and it is fun to see how Hickman develops these characters. By author’s design, I became most intrigued by “Priest” who showed a HUGE range of…everything. This is a character who defends, in the most extreme way, the victims of other humans. He is tender and understanding on one page, but then kills and tortures villains on other pages. He gets excited about horsepower and big guns like a teenager, but owns and commands leadership when needed. He is dynamic and exciting and, (most importantly) always interesting.
“He ain’t all there, is he?” Tug joked dryly.
“No sir, he ain’t, but I’ll take him that way any day.”
To do this with a cast of characters is extremely impressive and I have notes all throughout my margins applauding Hickman’s characters development and dynamics.
Another thing that struck me while reading this story is that Hickman definitely follows the advice to write what you know. The language people use, the military lingo, the acronyms, and everything else in the book shows that Hickman knows what he is talking about. He has military experience and it shows, but above that, he obviously did a lot of research and put a lot of thought into how to build realism and accuracy in his book. But then, even more impressive, is that he threads this through his story with such smoothness that it doesn’t feel like new jargon, but just every day knowledge. There are a few times when it is important that us non- military people need to a bit more information and Hickman even finds ways to put explanations smoothly in the conversations of characters.
Hickman is obviously a very skilled writer and I am impressed with how he built both his characters and his story.
As well-written and entertaining as Light Reapers is, I do feel like it could have been a bit longer. Not longer just for the sake of being longer, but longer for the purpose of developing certain things within the story. I already mentioned how well the characters were developed, but within the drama, I felt like certain things happened a little too fast. I seemed like the soldiers had a handle on what was happening pretty quickly when they went into the situation blind. They were pretty quick to execute the bitten and I just felt like there could have been more time invested into the soldiers discovering exactly what was happening. That being said, it was balanced by the ample time focused on extreme amounts of gratuitous violence and gore which we all love!
Now it’s time for the worst kept secret of anything I have written: I really enjoyed The Light Reapers. I had no preconceived thoughts when I cracked open the first page and I was extremely happy with how quickly I was drawn in.
I would recommend Hickman’s book to any fan of military, horror, zombie, action, or gory stories. Even if you are new to reading horror, this would be a great place to start that path!
I recommend heading over to Amazon right now and get a copy for yourself, read it…then come back to Horrorfuel!