Apocalypse Weird: The Red King Part One by Nick Cole

Apocalypse Weird: The Red King Part One by Nick ColeCombining realistic characters with varied threats, Cole creates a zombie apocalypse that is more than ‘get the guns to survive long enough to get the bigger guns’.

Zombies wander onto the streets of a modern USA, shambling off with the veneer of civilisation. Running low on cigarettes and booze, Holiday considers the risks of leaving his house. Meanwhile factions within the military industrial complex plot their schemes and spend their assets from the safety of bunkers.

Set at the point the Apocalypse Weird universe starts to show divergence from our own, this episode is a zombie survival narrative in the same vein as a myriad films and books. However, where it shines is in the detail. Rather than seeking to stand out by a new variation of fast or slow zombie or a fresh angle on innocence and cynicism gutted brutally, Cole provides the mundane details that form a life. While there is no lack of bloody action, this choice of depth over immediacy both builds empathy and creates a greater sense of actual otherness hidden beneath events.

Unfortunately, where the contrast between normality and otherness is smooth, the structure of this work has an obvious seam. Rather than intermix the narratives of civilian survival with military planning, Cole unfolds Holiday’s arc in the first half of the book and then, without warning, cuts to Braddock, a military operative, for the second half. This hard division both weakens the contrast between amateur fumbling and strategic response, and undercuts the empathy Cole has worked to create by forcing the reader to consider only a new set of characters.

While this is only the first part of the story, and as such does leave a significant amount unresolved, Cole resolves a meaningful arc for both major protagonists; thus avoiding the jagged and unfulfilling ending so common to works released in parts.

Where the serial nature of the work does show more brutally, is in the presence of embodied evil. Although the prologue shows the Raggety Man, a recurring bogeyman of the Apocalypse Weird universe, making the first move in a game of chess layered with metaphysical portent, the rest of the book is in the scientific zombie style. Neither advancing the plot nor adding real perspective on events, this interlude seems only there to tell the reader that other parts in the series will be more supernatural.

Despite the loss of empathy from the abrupt transition between narratives, the characterisation in both arcs is as solid as Cole’s plot and world-building. Holiday is a man diffused by a comfortable life, struggling to fight; whereas Braddock has the focus to fight, but struggles to be more than a weapon.

Overall, I enjoyed this book but lacked a feeling of closure. I recommend it to readers seeking zombie survival driven by more than gory horror.

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