Book Review – The Red King by Nick Cole

★★☆☆

I downloaded Audible because I don’t read enough. The moment I discover a perceived error, I toss a book aside and do something else instead. This results in my reading only “perfect” books, which are few and far between, and usually written a hundred years ago by impossibly talented authors. (Jane Austen, Jack London, etc.)

The only issue here is that they don’t write in a style I wish to (or even can) use, and therefor don’t inspire me to start madly writing.

So, I’m trying audiobooks, because when I’m driving to work and back, listening to a book –even an imperfect one –is about the most interesting thing I can do. Plus, Audible gives me one credit a month, so I can only choose from one audiobook at a time.

The first book I chose to read after scanning the post apocalyptic genre section was The Red King by Nick Cole. I have never read anything by this author before, and picked the book because of its nifty ass cover. Now this looks like the kind of thing I’m writing about.

So, I downloaded the book and the very next morning started playing it over the Bluetooth in my car.

It begins by introducing two more or less nameless characters in a promisingly desolate world, but that’s just the prologue. The first actual chapter introduces the main protagonist, who I don’t exactly bond with right off the bat.

Holiday’s a guy in his early thirties who’s having a rough time accepting that his teenage (18 or 19 years old) girlfriend has gone off to college, leaving him at his dead end coffee shop job. He’s been drinking a lot because of this, which is thoroughly (THOROUGHLY) made clear as he leave work and goes grocery shopping.

And that’s pretty much the whole first chapter. Grocery shopping while Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up plays in the store. ‘Kay.

I won’t go into too much detail, but after drinking himself to sleep, he wakes to find zombies wandering down the street, piling up on a vehicle stopped at the end of the road. They’re clearly zombies. One of them even charges at him and bangs on his door when he flees back inside. He somehow seems oblivious to the fact shit has hit the fan, and casually drives back to the grocery store, which is again thoroughly documented.

At this point I definitely would have put the book down. So far it’s just a guy pining for his very young ex, drinking a lot, and very very very focused on constantly smoking. That’s why he goes back to the grocery.

He goes home, passing corpses and obvious zombies along the way. Admittedly, he does think several times over, something’s not right. Right.

Shortly after, he meets my favorite character in the whole book: Frank.

Frank is a potbellied, middle aged guy. He’s nice. Super nice. He comes up with helpful ideas, and seems to be, unlike Holiday, aware that there are living dead folks everywhere and they should probably avoid activities that are not conducive to not being eaten alive.

Suddenly, we break away to the interior of a castle, where a curly haired woman is executing an elderly Nazi. She then vanishes into what I am assuming is a time machine.

Now, I didn’t have much information before I downloaded the book, so at this point I just thought, well okay. I guess this is going to play a major role going forward. Maybe she’s a time traveling heroine who will now help save the world from the zombie apocalypse.

She appears in Holiday and Frank’s neighborhood, and Holiday helps her to escape a horde of the undead. They end up going into a Walmart in the process, at which point I think, oh no. Not more grocery shopping!

A strange voice starts speaking to them over the intercom in the Walmart. It seems to be some deranged hillbilly who’s set up in the manager’s office. He wants Holiday to give him Ash, the Nazi killing badass (or so I think at this point), in exchange for all the supplies he’s stashed. I commend the audiobook narrator, Guy Williams, for his excellent character voicing at this point.

Holiday doesn’t give up the girl, and they flee out the back, almost being swarmed by zombies at this point. Eventually they are able to return to his safe neighborhood and Ash is introduced to Frank. Fortunately, Frank is a bangin’ chef, and also conveniently has clothes Ash can wear inside his home. It is never clear whether they belonged to a wife or a daughter, or if he just likes playing dress up. No judgement either way.

This period of bonding was enjoyable for me to read. Ash is a big help to Frank in setting up a perimeter and helping to fortify the rows of town homes where they live to keep out the zombies.

At some point, Holiday and Ash go to yet another store together. Before they leave, the strangest onslaught of onomatopoeia I have ever encountered occurs. The poor narrator is forced to vocalize about six thousand thirty-nine instances of “HUMMMMMMM,” “hoooaaaaargh,” and “vrrooooooom” as a plane or helicopter or I don’t know what the hell flies seemingly in tight circles around the Walmart, peppering zombies with a turret, allowing them to escape.

I’m not sure if this is in the same part of the book, but there is also a point inside a Home Depot in which Holiday picks up a ringing phone and talks to an insane old woman who mysteriously knows his name. He’s freaked out, but it is not mentioned again after that.

Later, at Frank’s townhouse, a heavy fog sets in and more onomatopoeia skills are displayed as something gigantic THUMPS through the neighborhood. A gigantic footprint is later discovered, and never explained.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, there is a chapter that introduces another character named Jack Braddock. This chapter was so far out of left field that I checked my audiobook to be sure I was still listening to the same one.

It reads like an action movie. The guy is running through zombie crowded streets, carrying a nuclear weapon in a suitcase. Admittedly I did not pay the closest attention to this because I was eager for the story to return to characters I was familiar with and gave half a shit about. This part of the book consists of more than one chapter. I believe Jack Braddock (his name was irritatingly action-cliche to me somehow) gets his suitcase where he intends after flying in a helicopter with a man who I can only imagine looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies after part of his face is shot off to expose metal underneath. He is aptly named Mr. Steele.

We return briefly to Holiday, Frank and Ash. Holiday snaps at Frank, presumably irritable because he hasn’t had enough alcohol. He seems to be portrayed as an alcoholic of sorts, but it never feels realistic to me. He just really, really wants a drink, but when he’s not drunk he’s perfectly well and functional. Except every other sentence is about cigarettes and how he’s out or how he’s smoking one.

Holiday and Ash enjoy an intimate swim. It is explained that she looks stunning in a small bathing suit, though she’s highly embarrassed to be wearing one of Frank’s tiny black bikinis. They didn’t make bikinis in whatever time period she came from.

Holiday swims and his head is cleared, and they have a moment in which they get very close before Frank arrives to cockblock with a delicious dinner. Holiday invites Ash back to his place, rudely in front of Frank, but she shuts him down and goes back to Frank’s, where she’s been staying.

Holiday obviously has no choice but to go to the grocery store. Again. Even though a literal giant THUMPED through town and the living dead are everywhere.

So he goes, gets drunk inside the grocery store, is found by zombies, and cornered. Meanwhile, he’s left the perimeter he set up with Ash and Frank open, and they swarm into their fortified safe space. Frank and Ash rise to the challenge and go on a shooting spree while Holiday is trapped on the roof of a school.

There is another strange interruption so that we can be introduced to a new group of characters. They are: Ritter (spelling?), a ‘white brother,’ a young stoner named Scully, who Guy Williams hilariously voices as Mystery Inc.’s Shaggy, Dante, who we are repeatedly reminded is black, and Candice, who is “actually pretty” and sleeps with her boss, Dave. Dave is a jerk and promptly dies.

They are all trapped in a corporate office together. Ritter came to drop something off with Dave – possibly the briefcase Jack Braddock was working to transport earlier in the book. Candice and Dante work in the office, and Scully was there to deliver food when shit went sideways.

While the whole book is written in the third person, it assumes the point of view of certain characters throughout. So, I can almost forgive that one woman is referred to as ‘a blonde’ rather than a human being whose hair is blond. I’ll also forgive that Ritter is a condescending jackass toward Candice, who he calls Candie even after she asks him not to, and thinks about what a great cougar she’d make in a few years. It’s also explained that it’s hard for a pretty woman like her not to get by on her looks. I’m not sure if this is Ritter or the author’s belief at this point.

Anyway, Ritter treats her like a child, then hits on her, to which she is quite receptive given the circumstances. Lovely.

Dante paces the halls “like a panther,” and not any other sort of stalking feline because he is black, and we need to be aware of this fact so urgently that it is iterated more than once. His skin is also referred to as chocolate. I found all of this to be a bit much, since I was already correctly imagining him as a large black man due to more subtle and well written descriptions earlier in the chapter.

Ritter is portrayed as being a mastermind, though what he really does is manipulate the others into coming up with plans for him. I can deal with this sort of unlikeable likeableness.

Dante, who used to play football, comes up with a “play” that’ll get them out. At this point I’m actually interested to see how it all goes down, but the segment ends just as they’re getting ready to run the play.

Meanwhile, Holiday witnesses a helicopter crash while he’s up there on the roof of the school, and hops down onto a previously sprained ankle. Beating the zombies to the wreckage, he salvages a couple rifles he doesn’t have the experience to shoot.

He finds an abandoned store where he can get some water, but is held up at gunpoint by Ritter. I get excited because one of the random chapters has actually tied back in with the story.

Holiday’s options are to a) give up the guns to Ritter, which he refuses to do, or b) help Ritter save his buddies, who are trapped in a stairwell because their play didn’t go perfectly according to plan. He chooses the latter.

Via some very poor shooting, he’s able to create enough of a distraction to the zombies to allow Ritter to rescue his friends with Scully’s car. Holiday fires at a zombie attacking the car and manages to shoot Scully in the process before they pick him up and everyone drives back to the town homes.

There, they find the (really this time) dead bodies of the zombies Ash and Frank have killed. Frank was a soldier in ‘Nam, and, as it turns out, a total badass. After revealing she’s a surgeon and saving Scully, Ash slaps Holiday upside the face and storms away.

He asks Frank what that was all about, and in a fantastic rant that reminds me of a Family Guy episode –the one where Quagmire tells Brian how he really feels about him –a sentiment I think we all share –Frank tells Holiday how much he sucks ass. How he went off, almost got them all killed, and doesn’t take this whole survival thing seriously. So they’re kicking him off the island, so to speak. Then the chapter ends.

We again see the two unnamed characters, still playing their game of chess, as a nuclear detonation sends up a mushroom cloud in the background. I’m not sure if it’s that suitcase. There the book ends, and I realize it’s a series.

I don’t know if I’ll check out the next book in the series or not. I’m interested to see if the insane hillbilly in the Walmart, the crazed old woman who called the Home Depot wanting to speak to a Randy, or Jack Braddock are ever mentioned again. I also want to know what the hell was up with that giant footprint. So, I might.

Everywhere I look, this book received great reviews. I don’t fully understand why.

The author uses a lot of passive voice. There are many repetitive and somewhat cliche phrases, such as how often, while shooting guns, Holiday thinks about the “snappy dialogue” between the hero and villain in action flicks. The beginning is quite slow.

The main character, Holiday …well, he’s close to a good character in my opinion, but just doesn’t have enough redeemable qualities for me to forgive his actions. I know that alcohol addiction can make a person do horribly selfish things, but I just don’t quite buy his addiction, if that makes sense. He just seems like a guy who is oblivious to everything outside his own tiny world of missing his ex and wanting to bang Ash to the point he keeps forgetting about the whole zombie apocalypse thing. No one seems particularly traumatized by the grisly horror all around them.

I feel the author struggles a little with female characters, as well. They don’t stand well enough on their own.

All in all, it’s not bad. It’s not great, either. It feels like something with a ton of potential that just wasn’t edited quite enough. It could also stand to be simplified, though I could change my mind if I check out the rest of the series.

 

4 thoughts on “Book Review – The Red King by Nick Cole

  1. Very interesting review. I am not a big zombie fan, but the review does make this look interesting.

    One audio book I cannot get tired of is the 1981 BBC Radio Drama of The Lord of the Rings. The story meanders a bit (still no Tom Bombadil or Goldberry 😦 ) yet with so many different people playing roles (including Ian Holm as Frodo and Bill Nighy as Samwise) it is entertaining.

    Have you ever read Clark Ashton Smith? His works are mostly short stories, but he was a wordsmith supreme. his work is free here: http://www.eldritchdark.com/ and does include a few audio renditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      And you know, I have always wanted to read his stuff. Maybe now is a good time to start. Thank you for the suggestion and the link!

      I did consider downloading a Tolkien audiobook (couldn’t decide between Fellowship & Hobbit) but a drama with different actors playing different roles could be much more entertaining!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you get The Hobbit may I suggest the Nicol Williamson version? He was Merlin in Excalibur (among many other excellent roles) and his voices are awesome.

        Liked by 1 person

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