Q Island by Russell James from his publicist before the holidays. Q Island was getting some positive buzz at the end of 2015 and James has another book coming in 2016, so I was intrigued to read this one.
I am also offering the copy I received and read [so it is not in brand new shape] as a giveaway here today. I will accept entries to zombiegrl75 [at] gmail [dot] com through 5 pm [Chicago time] Wednesday 1/20/16. At that point, I will pick a random winner.
Now on to the review.
Q Island offers an original take on the zombie novel. The basic plot is that a deadly virus, that has laid dormant in a frozen, but infected mammoth for 10,000 years is quickly spreading across Long Island. The virus turns the infected’s veins a dark black as it spreads and turns them into homicidal maniacs-- kinda like a zombie, but not exactly. They are much easier to kill than zombies. Once the infected person is killed, their body explodes, sending spores into the air and infecting all of those around. The title comes from the fact that the US government completely closes off Long Island to quarantine, hence Q Island.
As I mentioned the plot itself is interesting and original. This is not a zombie novel like we are used to; in fact, it feels much more real-- which is terrifying. James’ strength as a writer and the success of this novel are built on how authentic he makes the entire story feel. As someone who has read many zombie and monster novels, I appreciated this greatly.
The story opens with the point of view of an infected mammoth and then quickly moves to patient zero. The way the virus gets to Long Island from Siberia makes so much sense you wonder if this could really happen. Why not.
So the dread and anxiety are built from page one perfectly. The chapters are short and the pace, fast so that by the time we meet our three main narrators, Samuel-- a doctor/infectious disease specialist, Melanie-- the mom of an Autistic boy and all her friends in the gated townhouse community where she lives, and Jimmy-- a career criminal, as readers, we are already worked up and invested in the story. That was very well done.
I am not going to spend any time here explaining how the story unfolds because that is much of the enjoyment of reading this novel. Just know that it is a well constructed plot, with plenty of ups and downs, great action sequences scattered throughout to keep interest, anxiety, and story all moving in a satisfying way. Also the three narrators each have their own story lines, which on their own are better than average, and as they merge together organically, enhance the overall story. Samuel’s storyline working on the virus and getting mixed up in some political issues was my favorite. Melanie and her crew of “regular guys,” was good. I really felt a connection with their plight.
However, my complaint with the novel comes from the villain Jimmy. I was not really invested in his story. I was so indifferent about him, I didn’t even take the time to hate him. He was a little too over the top evil from the start, unlike Paul, a secondary villain whose arc from vigilante hero to evil so bad you cheered when he finally got his, was much more satisfying. I understood Jimmy’s necessity for the plot, but I was indifferent to him as the main villain here.
The very best horror writers are able to include a villain beyond the “monsters” who readers hate as much as they love the heroes. Brian Keene, Jonathan Maberry, and Joe Hill do this the best. Now that might not be fair to James since these are three of the best horror writers today, but I was heartened to see glimpses of these feelings with the Paul character.
Q Island is more than solid on every other front however. The combination of the realistic infectious disease details, the compelling every day heroes with Melanie and her crew, and the political intrigue make it a great option to add to libraries with modern horror collections. I can also assure you that the novel has a satisfying modern horror ending-- closed enough but still very wide open to allow the terror to live on. It was a fun, fast, satisfying horror read.
For more from James, who I think is an author worth keeping an eye on, here is a link to an interview he did. I learned a lot about him and his work from listening to it.
Three Words That Describe This Book: realistically terrifying, fast paced, multiple plot lines
Readalikes: Q Island reminded me a lot of Jonathan Mayberry’s zombie novel Dead of Night because of the realistic way the infection spreads, the rapidly shifting points of view that keep the pace fast, and the overall sustained sense of dread. You can read my review of Dead of Night to see more details.
Brian Keene’s Castaways [one of my all time favorites] also features an island setting and involves monsters who are more human than not.
David Wellington is another author that is a good choice here, especially his NYC set zombie series that begins with Monster Island.
While those are whole package readalikes, here are some more specific options.
If you liked the medical parts of the story the most, try We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk or Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle.
If you liked the political intrigue the most, try Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy.
Finally, James is a friend and fan of horror author Hunter Shea who is also worth checking out.