Review: Welcome to Deadland by Zachary Tyler Linville

Welcome to Deadland by Zachary Tyler Linville is a debut novel and zombie apocalypse thriller (Available August 9, 2016).

I was intrigued by the title, and once I read the blurb, I knew I had to read this one. I admit, I was expecting something along the lines of the popular 2009 movie, Zombieland. I think it was a mixture of the title font, the blurb, and the title itself. My brain forged a connection somehow. But this book was different. It was something more than your run-of-the-mill, garden-variety zombie tale—and I liked it.

First, let me give you an interesting factoid about how the book came to be. Nerdist, the uber popular machine that serves as both an empire and a nucleus for anything pop culture, put out a call on their website—a contest that would see one lucky person having their sci-fi/fantasy novel published in connection with both Inkshares and Nerdist. Zachary Tyler Linville was the winner, and Welcome to Deadland is that novel.

I am mostly a consumer of the zombie culture. I watch movies, tv shows, and have participated in a zombie run. I’ve even published a short or two in the genre. Despite all of this, I seem to be picky about the zombie stories I read. There’s no real reason—I just am. But, there was something about this book that made me sit up and take notice.

The story is written in a unique format, alternating between the present dystopia and a time before the zombie apocalypse. Linville does this seamlessly and utilizes shorter, fast-paced chapters to move the reader along. Once I started reading, I didn’t put the book down until I was three quarters of the way in, and that was only because I needed a bathroom break. I finished it in one afternoon. That’s not my usual.

We follow the lives of main characters, Wendy, Rico, and Asher, as they make their way through a world devastated. A virus has been unleashed and it spreads fast, leaving behind reanimated beings with a vicious anger and need to consume flesh. Not much is known about their origins except hints and cryptic assumptions that are steered toward a shady corporation and possible continuation in another installment. 

The thing Linville really shines at is character development. These characters are written so that I could feel like I was there with them. I cared for them; I wanted them to survive. Much of the time is spent getting to know them in this book. For instance, Asher became my favorite, as we see him work through a pretty detailed sexual awakening and his struggles to come to terms with his own truth and revealing this to those close to him. Rico is a drug addict that has to overcome his cravings, as he is put in charge of his younger brother in this new, unforgiving world. There wasn’t as much time spent on Wendy, but I suspect her story will be eventually explored further.

And, yes, being a zombie tale, there is plenty of action and zombie kills to sate the thirst. One such scene that stuck out for its tension and slow build is when Rico and his brother, Jayden, are searching for gasoline:

“There’s gas, just not here – “ Rico stops midsentence. A skeletal hand materializes from under the station wagon, quickly followed by another hand with bloody fingertips where nails once were. The first hand reaches out farther, landing inches from Jayden. Jayden follows Rico’s gaze downward, spotting the hand. He jumps up with a scream, backing away from the gas pump and the woman emerging from under the car, dragging herself inch by inch. “Jayden, shut up!”

Rico picks up the shotgun, aims it at the woman, and pulls the trigger. A loud shot rips through the air and the woman’s face explodes. Her head drops down to the cement but her hand twitches and moves forward. Rico fires off a second shot into the top of her head and the hand stops. He drops the shotgun and grabs his chest, trying to steady his breathing. He turns to check on Jayden, but the boy is gone.

Another tense moment that really shows the danger of this new world, and that the zombies are not the only threat, is felt Wendy and Asher try to find shelter amidst the abandoned cars on an interstate:

A squeak, like rubber twisting on the floor, carries out from under a seat in the middle of the bus. The hairs on Asher’s arm rise and he is swept with the sensation of being watched. The sound seems to come from almost directly behind him, and he lowers his body to check under the seats once more. On his hands and knees, ducking his head down, he comes face-to-face with a black woman. Before Asher can register what is happening, his eyes are flooded with a burning liquid, and he shoves himself up and backward, crashing into a seat frame, hitting his head on the support. He falls to the ground between two seats. He wipes and claws at his eyes. 

“What the hell?!” Asher screams, kicking his legs out to ward off his attacker. Snot pours from his nose as the feeling of flames licking at his face intensifies. The bus shakes and groans and he hears stomping coming up the stairs.

Even though Rico, Asher, and Wendy are the main characters, there were quite a few other characters whose stories were also intriguing. One in particular, Yuki, quickly became another favorite of mine. We meet her when everyone finds themselves in a popular, abandoned theme park in Florida—you know the one. She was a badass, and I’ve got to know more about her. Let me give you this awesome scene with Yuki so you can see what I’m talking about:

“Behind you!” Rico yells.

Yuki jerks the ax free and spins. The blade slices cleanly through the neck of an attacking woman, decapitating her and sending her head rolling through the shattered glass, landing a foot away from Rico and staring up at him with her teeth bared. The tiara sits, askew, on top of Yuki’s dark hair, her bangs hanging in her eyes, with blood splattered across her face, arms, and chest, but she otherwise appears unharmed.

“Here, you don’t want any blood getting in your eyes or your mouth, just in case.” Rico steps up to her with a bottle of water. Yuki closes her eyes and leans back, allowing Rico to pour the water over her face and wash away the blood. “All done.”

Not wanting to wipe her eyes with her blood-covered hands, she shakes her head and blinks until she can see again. “Where did they come from?”

“I don’t know,” Rico answers. “But the warning gunshots weren’t from anywhere near here so there has to be more of them.”

While walking back to the spooky-themed land, Rico wonders why none of the watchmen caught the infected earlier and signaled to Daniel or Aubrey that they were in the park. They round the corner and Rico’s heart drops. There are at least twelve to fifteen infected roaming between the haunted house and the pumpkin ride, their attention focused in the direction of the shots, and another two are crouched on the ground feasting on one of the women from the camp.

Yuki drops her bag to the ground and charges forward with her ax before Rico can stop her. She chops into the back of one of the infected eating the woman, and when the other infected drops the arm he was taking a bite of, she expertly kicks him in the head with an audible snap. Yanking the ax free, she buries it into the neck of the one she kicked.

This is a fun and fast read. The story ends a bit abruptly, but I’ve heard there might be a second book coming, so I look forward to finding out more about the suspicious corporation, the characters, and what happens next. Well done, Linville. 

 

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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.

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