Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: "Blue Plague: The Fall" by Thomas A. Watson

I always dread when someone asks me to review a self-published book, and in most cases, I decline. It’s nothing against that particular work. It’s just the personal history I have with them as a former “professional” reviewer that used to get several a week. I’m sure there are fantastic self-pubbed books out there  – better than anything coming out of the majors – but the vast majority that crossed my desk were horrible.

So, I took a deep breath before diving into Thomas Watson’s “Blue Plague: The Fall” ($2.99 ebook, $15.99 paperback).

The book focuses on an interesting family, actually two families who have melded into one on a communal farm in northern Louisiana. They spend most of their extra time and money making their farm self-sufficient, training and stocking up on weapons, supplies and other things that they might need in case of some kind of government shutdown – or, perhaps, the zombie apocalypse. The second is probably something the family would have joked about until a virus that begins in the Congo makes its way around the world and to the United States via a few aid volunteers who escape the country shortly before it is shut down.

The virus, which may have an interesting origin, attacks the brain, killing the victim and bringing them back as blue-skinned, zombie-like creatures. The blues, as Watson calls them, don’t usually eat the flesh of their victims like classic zombies. For some strange reason,  they just attempt to bite them then walk away.

The parents of the two families work at a hospital in Shreveport, and when all workers are called to their posts under threat of arrest if they don’t show, the fathers – the hotheaded and violent Bruce and his more level-headed friend Mike – make the trek to work, even though they know something bad is coming, to try to protect the family and their secret farm. Getting home again after everything goes to Hell will be much harder.

“Blue Plague: The Fall” tested one of the things that I’ve always believed true about a good book – it’s all about story and characters. “The Fall” is not elegantly nor eloquently written. At times, in fact, the writing style is quite rough. What the book is, though, is compelling. I found myself flipping the pages and becoming deeply involved with Watson’s characters. I laughed with them, cried with them, celebrated with them and mourned with them through most of the tale.

Then, we come to the final portion of the book, where Bruce undergoes a serious character transformation. The story as a whole focuses on the darker side of human nature, as people who are, in many ways, worse than the blues begin to use the chaos to claim power. Gangs, corrupt officials and others see the events as a way to exert their power, which drives Bruce into a place that’s been hinted at earlier in the book, but we’ve never quite seen him in. Without giving too much away, he goes from a very likeable guy to someone the reader will be very conflicted about by the time the tale wraps up. Though most of his actions are, at least in their beginnings, justified, there are a couple of plays where he takes things a little farther over the edge than the usual hero, and we see in him a reflection of the darkness and chaos in the outside world that he’s trying to keep his family safe from. The ultimate effect is to leave the reader a little on edge and more than a little uncertain about what’s going to become of these characters we’ve grown to like in a world that’s ripping itself apart.

While I admit that I felt there were some rough parts and places where things could have been tightened up a bit, I’m glad that I didn’t pass on Watson’s debut. In the end, I’m still a believer that story and characters are king, and he grabbed me with those elements. I’m also intrigued by a hint he dropped and moved on from quickly that the virus may be something more than it appears. “The Fall” left me with a lot of questions and wondering how everything will shake out, and that’s what a good opening book should do.

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