Thursday, 15 July 2010

‘Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile’ – J.L. Bourne (Pocket Books)

You all knew it wouldn’t be long before I picked up the sequel to ‘Day by Day Armageddon’... ;o) If a zombie book appears on my radar then it’s always a question of ‘when’ it will be read rather than ‘if’. There are still a number of zombie books on my radar and I’m slowly working my way round to getting to them all...
There was also the fact that ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ was quite simply a read that had me gripped throughout and eager to find out more when the curtain came down at the end of the book. That’s not to say it was without its flaws, not by any means. Have a scroll down the page, a little, to see what I mean. What it was though was an atmospheric read that demanded my attention and that had to bode well for the sequel. Didn’t it?
Well, you would have thought it would have meant good things for ‘Beyond Exile’ and this is a book that does have stuff to recommend it. However, I was also left with the feeling that Bourne had lost his way a little bit here...

The world’s gradual slide into chaos continues and it’s all recorded in the diary of one man. The events at the ‘Hotel 23’ missile silo have shown our band of survivors that it’s not just zombies that they need to worry about. If there’s one thing worse than a ravenous walking corpse it’s a survivor with a loaded gun and a complete lack of morals.
However, this is the world now and survival has to be strived for; the alternative is unthinkable. As our band of survivors struggle to survive though, it becomes clear that remnants of the old world are looking to carve out a niche for themselves in the new. It’s time to pick a side...

‘Beyond Exile’ carries on a lot of the good work originally found in ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ and is a decent zombie novel because of it, but only when it stays on this path...

As with ‘Day to Day Armageddon’, the diary format works both for and against the novel in ‘Beyond Exile’. We still don’t really get to know our main character who can be a taciturn sort most of the time. Even the culmination of the ‘love interest’ side plot doesn’t merit much more than a ‘I really should go into this but... some other time’. Not getting to know who our main character actually is opens up a gulf between him and the plot that is difficult to negotiate. How can we tell what this new world really means to our main character if he refuses to engage with it in his diary?

Bourne tries to address this issue in the passages that give the book its name. Our man faces a two hundred mile walk home across zombie infested territory and it is handled very well. Bourne makes good use of the diary format to once again leave us with cliff hangers and revelations that drive this section of the book forwards at a fair old rate. We still don’t get much of an insight into the character though, he’s far too busy being a soldier for anything like that... A little bit of exploration into who this character is could have made all the difference.

As far as the atmosphere goes, Bourne nailed it in ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ and does the best thing possible by sticking to the ‘tried and tested’ in ‘Beyond Exile’. When the living are outnumbered by the dead (millions to one) it’s going to be as quiet as the grave... until you hear zombies start to moan nearby. Bourne displays a keen sense of timing, regarding when zombies appear on the scene, which had me holding my breath a couple of times and waiting for the inevitable...

It’s a shame then that Bourne appears to head off on a tangent that steers the focus away from what makes the book (and it’s predecessor) such a good read. Overemphasis on the military aspects of the tale, and bringing a shadowy government organisation into the mix, make ‘Beyond Exile’ a book that’s less about zombies than it is a book about conspiracy theories and cool military hardware. ‘Beyond Exile’ worked for me when it was a book about zombies, when it became about something else I found myself losing interest. The zombie threat was what drove the plot forwards and introducing another element to the plot, of this nature, derailed the main thrust.
Now, ‘Beyond Exile’ clearly sets things up for the next book so it may be that things become a lot clearer in the future. As it stands now though, things aren’t as clear as they could be. Setting things up for the next book in this manner also leaves the ending feeling a little vague and up in the air. ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ was left open for a sequel but ended on a very final note and was all the better for it.

One of the things that I particularly liked about ‘Day to Day Armageddon’ was that you never really found out what caused the whole mess in the first place. That’s just the way it should be. Where’s the point in worrying about where the zombies came from if they’re right there in front of you trying to eat your brains? Keeping that side of things low key just adds to the atmosphere.
Bourne goes against all of this by laying it on the line and telling us how it all began. If you’re going to do something like this then you had better do it damn well, Bourne misses the mark in my opinion. As with the military conspiracy stuff, Bourne’s revelation takes the focus away from the zombies and makes the story about something else entirely. As with the military conspiracy stuff, this shift doesn’t do a lot for the story. There is at least one more book to come though so I’m willing to be proved wrong here!

The initial impetus of 'Day by Day Armageddon' carries on in 'Beyond Exile' and there's enough here to have me all set to see where things go in the next book. I'm not as confident about where it's all going as I was before though. There is a danger that the story we came for isn't the one that's eventually going to be told, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

Michael R. Allen said...

I am about 150 pages into this one and my interest is starting to wane. Bourne recites the details of military strategy well, but he has no idea how to draw characters with moral dilemmas. Everyone outside of the central character is one-dimensional and I am sure that I could easily argue that the central character is one-dimensional, as well. This book is pretty average going so far and I would recommend Tooth and Nail by Craig DiLouie, instead.