About The Red King
The end of the world is only the beginning as an odd band of survivors pull together to construct a modern-day castle amid the burning ruins of suburbia lost. As undead hordes and strange otherworldly monsters ravage what’s left of civilization, things begin to go from worse to weird as each survivor’s dark past unfolds, revealing that reality might be more than anyone ever thought, and that an ancient force from the outer dark has finally arrived to conquer. Stephen King’s The Stand meets Lost in an epic confrontation between good and evil that spans history, time, and space. The Red King is the first full story to be released in the wild world of Apocalypse Weird, and it is book one of the Apocalypse Weird – WYRD arc by Nick Cole.
About the Author
Nick Cole is a working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by the students of various film schools for their projects, he can often be found as a guard for King Phillip the Second of Spain in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera or some similar role. Nick Cole has been writing for most of his life and acting in Hollywood after serving in the U.S. Army.
(I received an ARC of this book via the Apocalypse Weird website.)
Holiday is an alcoholic and spends several days on a booze and cigarettes bender, completely missing the zombie apocalypse happening outside his condo. By the time he starts to sober up, the only thing on TV is an Emergency Broadcast Warning and evacuation orders from the president. He can hear the gunshots from outside, the unending bleat of a car horn, and the nice looking female jogger he’s noticed on a few occasions now has a thirst for blood. As he begins to sober up, he realizes he’s one of the very few survivors of this weird apocalypse.
The Red King opens the Apocalypse Weird line of books, which is set to be part of a shared world of various strange apocalyptic tropes written by various authors, beginning here with Nick Cole. It’s a solid idea for a new “bookverse” series that promises to deliver everything from zombies (as detailed in this book) to kaiju attacks, mutants, cyborgs, and strange weather phenomena.
All of this makes reviewing a work like The Red King a bit tricky. While I did enjoy the book for the most part, portions of the book are meant to set-up the playing field for other writers and future installments in Cole’s WYRD arc. Ultimately, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a very incomplete reading experience.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a good series read. But, it’s becoming a bit of a pet peeve of mine when an entry fails to work well enough as a stand alone. Let me use Lee Child’s recent Jack Reacher novels as an illustration. During four books, Child used a overarching narrative of Jack Reacher traveling cross-country to meet up with Susan Turner. It’s a hook that connects the individual books, yet each of those four work well enough on their own and the central plot to each novel gets cleaned up sufficiently, yet leaves room to maneuver within this overarching “meet-up” story arc for the next book. Or, if you want to keep things in the zombie genre, check out Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series, which, again, has an overarching narrative but the conflicts at the core of each individual novel feel like a complete experience, while also saving enough of the connective narrative arch to draw you back for subsequent installments. While I appreciate the sense of scope at play here in Cole’s book, certain plot threads feel like missed opportunities that get introduced only to be entirely dropped from the narrative.
For instance, Cole spends a fair amount of time weaving multiple narratives. The book opens and closes with a chess game between The Red King and his Opponent. That works well enough as a book end and could have been a terrific way to tease the next book if there had only been some modicum of closure with the larger issues raised in between. Just as Cole has begun to lay the groundwork of Holiday’s survival story, and his developing relationship with his neighbor, Frank, he cuts away to tell the story of a spy under orders to infiltrate what I presume is a domestic terror operation. It’s a jarring change in narrative and a bit unexpected, introducing a bit of conspiracy to the zombie epidemic that seems promising at first but fails to congeal or offer any bit of temporary resolution. Another diversion involves the thumping presence of a massive, yet always unseen monster, who upsets the scenes a few times only to disappear entirely from the narrative.
By book’s end, I couldn’t help but wonder, what was the point of any of that? Obviously those scenes are there simply to connect this book to the work of other authors, but they feel too misplaced, and raise too many unanswered questions while offering nothing in the way of even minor resolution, to feel like necessary detours. If the question is ‘why are those scenes in this book’ and the answer is ‘wait until the next book to find out,’ well, I don’t feel like that’s a sufficient enough answer. It frustrates me when I begin to realize that a particular story exists only to tease the next part of the story, and spends more time setting up future installments rather than focusing on the present details and providing at least the appearance of resolution. Let’s get some closure to the weird story threads introduced here, just enough to feel natural and significant, and then blow things wide open again in the next book.
There’s my big complaint out of the way. And, thankfully, what is here and what does get resolved works well enough enough to keep me happy. The characters are pretty strong and relateable, and I was rooting for the trio of survivors at the book’s core all the way through.
I really liked Cole’s depiction of Holiday, giving the man enough of a solid character voice and heroic actions to make him sympathetic, but also giving him a very serious flaw that forces him into one questionable act after another. He’s a great flawed protagonist whose inner-demons help drive some of the conflict in the narrative, and whose choices have damaging repercussions. His alcoholism plays an integral role to the narrative, and it gives the book some much needed dimension to help set it apart from other zombie books.
I also really liked the relationship between Holiday, his neighbor Frank, and a female survivor named Ash. They make a fine trio, and there’s a terrific sense of camaraderie and a building trust as they rely on one another to survive and work together. I also found the resolution to the relationship side of their story to be particularly strong and necessarily damning. There’s a lot of heart in their final scenes together, and it works wonderfully.
The big question then, is, am I willing to check out what else Apocalypse Weird has in store during the coming months, and the answer is a resounding yes. Despite my quibble’s with some of the subplot developments occurring in The Red King, it certainly sounds like there are some terrific ideas coming through the pipeline and some very intriguing stories happening within the overarching premise of the Apocalypse Weird universe. I’m more than willing to check out the next installment to see how things shake loose and to see if I can get a better handle on what, exactly, is happening in this lineup of novels. The Red King may not have satisfied me 100 percent, but as an opening gambit to something much larger, it certainly has my attention.