We were first introduced to author Colin M. Drysdale when we reviewed his debut novel For Those In Peril On The Sea back in the summer of 2013. His tale of survivors escaping the infected via the sea thoroughly impressed us. We couldn’t wait to read the next addition to the series to find out what happens to Rob and his crewmates. The good news is Mr. Drysdale is back and sent us over a review copy of the next book in his For Those In Peril series. The bad news is this second book in the series isn’t a direct sequel to the first. Don’t fret my zombie loving friends. There’s more good news: this second book is pretty damn good!
The Outbreak introduces a new set of characters and provides a stunning first person accounting of what it is like to watch a city become overrun by a zombie infection. Watching the resulting turmoil is as frightening as it is entertaining.
This zombie novel follows the story of Ben, the seasoned captain of a whale watching vessel. Much of the harrowing tale takes place his forty-five foot sailboat, but there is plenty of terrifying land travel along the way. Before the real story begins Drysdale lays out a little background via a prologue.
Yes. This book begins with the often abhorred prologue. I, like many readers, often feel the urge to skip prologues. Fortunately this is one of the rare situations where a prologue works extremly well. The content contained within it would have seemed orphaned as a chapter of its own. Forcing the material into the existing first chapter would have made for awkward reading. As much as I hate to admit it, a prologue was the perfect solution here. The author doesn’t waste any time with it and manages to weave a wealth of vital information into a relatively short amount of space.
Within his eleven page prologue Drysdale manages to educate the reader on the origins of the mutated rabies virus and how the outbreak itself started. Just as important, readers also learn how serious the situation is and how bleak the future looks when they observe a heated discussion between the Prime Minister and his top General. Heading into the first chapter the reader knows Miami has been overrun and the United Kingdom is fully aware they’ll likely be overtaken soon. The military is prepared to seal all off all borders and to do the unthinkable if people attempt to get in or out. Simply put: It’s on!
The initial few pages of Chapter 1 introduces two main characters: Ben and Tom. Tom and Ben are good friends that met shortly after Ben graduated from college with a degree in marine biology. Tom is a street performer who helped Ben earn some money after college by turning his hobby of juggling into a job as a street entertainer. After a couple years juggling for money Ben decides he should put his degree to use and takes a job out of town as an expert for a whale watching company. He discovers he’s found his purpose in life and works to build enough experience to open his own company.
As his own boss, Ben enjoys splitting his year up into two parts. He spends his summer months showing tourists on the west coast of Scotland whales and other local sea and wildlife. He does much the same around the Canary Islands in the winter. Every spring and autumn Ben stops in Glasgow to meet visit Tom. Little does he know his last visit will go very wrong. All hell breaks loose and Ben quickly discovers the viral outbreak has reached Glasgow.
It is very apparent early on; Drysdale doesn’t intend to dawdle. Within the first 20 pages of this novel, Tom and Ben are running for their lives. They quickly determine they need to get off of land and back to Ben’s yacht if they have any hope of surviving. In the process they pick up a variety of other survivors. Some examples include a waitress, a young man named Daz and a Doctor Claire and her two children: Jake and Sophie.
The remainder of the story follows the group of survivors as they attempt to find a safe haven. They desperately search for a location that is remote enough to be untouched by the virus. On their journey they battle a variety of foes including the infected, fellow survivors, the military and mother nature. The tale concludes with a rather open and unresolved ending sure to leave readers hungry for a future novel in the series.
This one Made Us Eat Our Words: The author’s writing continues to mature and improve with each his successive works we review. In The Outbreak Drysdale has eliminated nearly every complaint we had with the first book in this series.
Drysdale’s Writing is Lean and Efficient: There’s nothing but clean, lean and easy to ready storytelling here. There is no fluff or fill and every word seems written with purpose.
Simple and Engaging Plot: Many zombie novels we review just try to do too much at once. Attempting to follow five subplots and ten different characters can be exhausting and distracting. Reading should be an escape, not a chore. Fortunately The Outbreak gave us just what we love with just the right amount of plot twists and surprises to keep us guessing.
Ideal Length: Sometimes we just aren’t in the mood for a 800 or 1,000 page novel, especially when a third of it is pointless fill. Our review copy of The Outbreak came in at 347 pages which we found ideal. If you’re a quick reader with free time don’t be surprised if you blow through this one in a day or two, it really is that good!
Feverish Pace: Drysdale pulls no punches and advances The Outbreak at a blistering speed. Impatient readers will definitely approve of this one.
The Return of The Clingers: We like the concept of the infected lacking the ability and coordination to swim. The safety of the water is offset by the fact that the infected are smart enough to cling to debris floating in the water. First seen in, For Those In Peril On The Sea, These silent killers return in this novel. They float around waiting to climb aboard and feast at the most inopportune time for the crew.
Believable Characters: The characters are incredibly real and believable. Absent are the superheroes or unbelievably skilled survivors that plague other books in the genre. Ben, Tom, Claire and the others are initially awkward and scared. They don’t kill with ease and the violence and ruthlessness of their new world seems to wears on them. They all come from different walks of life and each character struggles to cope while growing into their new roles. Watching Claire, Ben, Daz and Sophie mature along the way was incredibly entertaining. The authenticity of the characters leads the reader to become emotionally engaged with each and every one.
Even the military presence in this book is realistic. They’re prepared to follow orders until the end and they do so. Sometimes the military is called upon to make tough decisions to protect the overall good.
The apocalypse isn’t pretty. Sometimes surviving humans present more danger than the infected. The author throws in just enough human conflict and from non-infected to keep things genuine.
No Character is Safe: While there are many moments where characters manage to cheat death, the fact that no one is safe is continually driven home. Just when you think a main character is going to be untouchable for the duration of the novel, they are brutally taken out.
The Ending: The Outbreak’s conclusion left us feeling both cheated and craving more. We felt cheated because we selfishly wanted all the loose ends tied up. Instead, the story reaches just enough of a resolution to let you know where the characters stand in the present moment. It also leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat wondering what their fate will be in the near future. You’ll be left praying Mr. Drysdale continues the series.
MEH. (What’s Not So Great):
We strive to bring you open and honest reviews. This means we have to point out things we weren’t so fond of. Fortunately this was a very tough job with this book. Our complaints ended up being a list of very minor nitpicking. Here are some areas where The Outbreak rubbed us the wrong way.
Not The Most Original Title: While The Outbreak does give you a great idea what the book is about, the title seems a little boring. The vanilla title doesn’t just doesn’t seem worthy of the great story it is perched upon.
The Cover Could Be Better: We’ve bashed Drysdale for his cover art in the past. It’s never personal, but we’re always left thinking his stories deserve amazing covers that equal the quality of his writing. Things are improving, but we’re still slightly disappointed to see a less than perfect cover on a story that is nearly perfectly written.
This time around, we’re not complaining too much about the cover art. We will waste a few minutes of our time whining about the quality and durability of said cover. The paperback cover on our review copy of The Outbreak just didn’t have a hope of surviving our clumsy ham-fisted ways. The cover creased and curled far too easily. Worse yet the matte finish lamination easily scratched and began peeling away slightly in spots at the corners. We’re not sure a high quality durable cover would be worth the additional expense it would cost the author or readers; we’re simply making an observation. If you don’t mind your books looking well used when you’re done with them, have no fear.
UK/British Specific References: We’re always slightly annoyed by the differences between U.S. and UK/British spelling of words. Thinks like “organize” vs. “organise” and “color” vs. “colour” aren’t too distracting, but they do tend to stick out to American readers.
Our biggest complaint was the frequent appearance of the word, “leant”. We don’t really use the word often here in the U.S., so it always felt a little harsh and awkward when read. We “lean” or “leaned” on something, not “leant”.
Another complaint in this area was a few references to something called Balamory. At one point the characters mention an area being the setting for Balamory. As an American I was pretty clueless just what it was. I was smart enough to guess it was likely a children’s television program but my curiosity forced me to stop reading and Google it. Balmory was indeed a children’s Scottish/British Television show that aired from around 2002 to 2005. We’re not self centered or arrogant Americans here so we didn’t let these minor details sully our review. We just thought these minor annoyances were significant enough for us to mention.
If all of this sounds like captious grumbling we’d be inclined to agree with you. Truth be told, there really isn’t much to dislike this time around!
The Final Verdict:
4.75 out of 5 Stars (Brains)
Drysdale has vaporized every minor complaint we had with his first narrative in this series. The Outbreak is an engaging and highly entertaining novel in a series that continues to breathe original new life into the sometimes stale and saturated undead genre.
We can’t wait to follow this series as it continues to unfold; the wait between books is almost as agonizing as the chasm between seasons of The Walking Dead.
Disclaimer: The author or publisher provided us with a review copy of this book in exchange for our honest and unbiased review.