Tuesday, October 21, 2014

REVIEW: The Ghoul Archipelago / Stephen Kozeniewski

Halloween is just around the corner, and in anticipation, I'm dedicating this week to horror writer Stephen Kozeniewski, writer of creepy chills and gruesome thrills. Part 2 of the series is a review of The Ghoul Archipelago, the zombie-ridden tale of a society in ruins. 

TITLE: The Ghoul Archipelago
AUTHOR: Stephen Kozeniewski
PUBLISHER: Severed Press
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (Kindle e-book), Amazon (paperback)

Horror - Post-apocalyptic

Once upon a time, there was a planet called Earth. Then, for some reason, the dead started rising again, becoming vicious, flesh-eating ghouls. Zombies. Walking dead.

Reactions range from "Hallelujah, the Second Coming of Jesus is nigh!" to "Whatever, how can I turn a profit?"And, of course, there's "Holy f***, there are ravenous corpses everywhere!"

The first of these comes from Reverend Sonntag, a religious zealot who sees the zombie apocalypse as a Biblical event. The second from Rand Bergeron, a businessman who made his fortune selling machines that whisk users into virtual reality sex dreams. And the third from pretty much everyone else.

The Ghoul Archipelago follows the mad power struggle between Sonntag, Rand, and a lunatic politician (not that Sonntag and Rand aren't lunatics as well). Caught up in all this is Captain Henk "Howling Mad" Martigan and his scrappy freighter crew. Sailing through the South Pacific, Martigan and company combat pirates, ghouls, and each other in an effort to survive.

If the above plot description sounds a bit windy, that's because the book itself is anything but another straightforward "oh no, the dead are rising" zombie novel. At first glance, it's a tale of horror that delights in shocking its audience. Look past the worm-filled eye sockets and limb-tearing scenes, and you'll see a clever sci-fi political satire.

Now, admittedly, doing so is very, very hard, especially if you're squeamish like me. I know the author (full disclosure: Kozeniewski's Braineater Jones is published by Red Adept, who's also my publisher for the Jane Colt novels), and as I was reading Ghoul, I found myself regularly Facebook messaging him to let him know just how traumatized I was. If Professor X were to listen to my thoughts as I was reading, he would have heard something like this:

"AAAAAAHHHH!!! Why, Steve, why? That's gross! Okay... just breathe... moving on... okay, that's kind of cool... WHAT THE HELL?! Steve, what's wrong with you?! *inhales* It's just a book it's just a book it's just a book... HOLY $#@*!!! Did that really just happen? There's an image I'll never get out of my head... Hey, that's interesting... whoa, WHAT! I need a drink..."

The definition of "horror" is to, well, horrify people, and Kozeniewski has a special knack for that, it seems. Just when you think you've seen it all, he thrusts another scream-inducing, lunch-losing piece of madness in your face. After I post this, I'm going to message Steve again, this time asking what I did to deserve this trauma. Steve, whatever I did, I'm sorry!

Moving on from all that...

If the fabric of Ghoul is a worm-eaten, bloodstained black sheath, Kozeniewski's unique, tongue-in-cheek writing style is the glitter sprinkled across it. Even the most violent scenes of horror aren't without their witty quips and snappy comebacks. And he bestows each of the book's many characters with sharp dialogue that rings true. This book really comes to life on the page, which could be why I required hours of cat therapy after reading it...

Ghoul is not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy the dark and twisted, then I recommend you give this book a try. 

Stephen Kozeniewski lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. He was born to the soothing strains of “Boogie With Stu” even though The Who are far superior to Zep, for reasons that he doesn’t even really want to get into right now.

During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. The depiction of addiction in his fiction is strongly informed by the three years he spent working at a substance abuse clinic, an experience which also ensures that he employs strict moderation when enjoying the occasional highball of Old Crow. 
He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s is in German.

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