Tuesday, 20 May 2014

'The Remaining' - D.J. Molles (Orbit)

Is it me or are there fewer zombie novels being published at the moment? It’s probably just me but even so, it feels like a welcome moment of respite in a publishing landscape where the number of zombie books was reaching saturation level (and from me, that’s saying something!) You really can have too much of a good thing you know.
The good thing for me is that this means I’m getting interested in zombie books again. Not that I ever lost that interest, not really, but it was a close thing at times. D.J Molles’ ‘The Remaining’ series has had good things said about it, just recently, and the arrival of a review copy gave me the chance to find out for myself if all these good words had any substance to them. The good news is that they do but I still can’t help but hope for better things in the books to come. Go on, have some blurb…

In a steel-and-lead encased bunker a Special Forces soldier waits on his final orders.

On the surface a bacterium has turned 90% of the population into hyper-aggressive predators.

Now Captain Lee Harden must leave the bunker and venture into the wasteland to rekindle a shattered America.

Isn’t that the most succinct blurb you have ever read? No messing about, just three rather curt lines that tell you what to expect from ‘The Remaining’. The problem is that the book itself, doesn’t really elaborate on this too much. Sure, there are hints that the ‘zombies’ (if you could call them that) may be a little more than the regular shambling undead but the book can swiftly be summed up as ‘Harden fights the infected, rescues civilians, fights renegades… and repeat’. Harden carries the plot well but is a little too good to be true. I liked the way that Molles has Harden waiting on tenterhooks for his mission and then throws him totally into the unknown but there’s never any doubt that he will overcome obstacles, even when he is trying to protect civilians at the same time. The guy is just too much of a hard-core military dude for that. It’s early days though (very early judging by the number of books in the series) so it’s fair to say that ‘The Remaining’ is more about introducing Harden rather than doing anything interesting with the character. If you’re after seeing what Molles can do with a character who clearly isn’t geared up to coping with this new world, read ‘An Empty Soul’ at the back of the book. Molles displays a feel for the demands of post-apocalyptic life that isn’t in ‘The Remaining’ (yet) but gives me real hope for the future of this series. Hard choices are always the order of the day and Molles gives his main character one of the hardest of all (doesn’t shy away from the gory details of it either…)

As an introductory piece then, ‘The Remaining’ does its job very well despite its shortcomings; certainly well enough to make the sequel a ‘definite read’. There is an energy and urgency to the plot (a little bit for Harden but mostly for the people following him) that kicks in at just the right time and swept me along to the conclusion. I polished ‘The Remaining’ off in a couple of sittings and that’s a pretty big deal these days! While I was never that worried for Harden’s safety, Molles does paint a very bleak backdrop full of ruin and abandonment; that sense of emptiness really captures the feel of a world suddenly gone to hell and I’ve got to admit to jumping a couple of times when the infected suddenly appeared (just because it was so quiet). I got to the end of ‘The Remaining’ and immediately read the excerpt from the sequel, ‘Aftermath’, to find out what happened next. That’s not something I’d normally do so that tells you something pretty positive about the experience overall.

Room for improvement then but ‘The Remaining’ is a thoroughly entertaining read (think Matthew Reilly meets ’28 Days Later’ and you won’t go too far wrong) that has me eagerly awaiting the sequel. You can’t ask for a lot more than that from a book.

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