Another Jack Hunt Apocalypse
The end of the world is a topic which fascinates some people more than others, and I believe we can safely say Jack Hunt is part of this interesting book. Previously he has tackled the topic of an electronic apocalypse in his EMP Survival series, exploring in great depth the personal and societal effects such an event would have on humanity. In his standalone novel The Wild Ones, Hunt has decided to take a slightly more lighthearted approach to the topic of Armageddon by turning his attention to a timeless classic: zombies. It is certainly true we've witnessed a veritable array of such novels hitting the shelves in recent years, but in my opinion a few of them are worth a read for the fresh perspective they provide on an old subject... and this happens to be one of them.
In any case, to give you a brief idea of what's going on, the story takes us to the Adirondacks, a chain of mountains near New York. A group of teenagers are attending a novelty of today's world, a summer zombie survival camp meant to teach them everything they would ever need should the most imaginary of apocalypses come to pass. I'm certain you already know where this is going: against all odds, an actual zombie outbreak happens in the mountains as an outbreak infects people and causes them to behave in a violent and uncontrollable manner. Being stranded more or less in the middle of nowhere and with mindless killing machines bearing down on them from all directions, the small group of inexperienced teens must band together, putting their knowledge of zombie hunting to the ultimate test. These two weeks were meant to be some of the most memorable and enjoyable times of their lives... now they'll be lucky to make a step without dying.
At first glance, I will admit this appears to be nothing more than yet another zombie novel to read and forget, to catalogue with the rest of the generic pile. However, the deeper you get into this book the more you realize it has much more to offer. To begin with, the various character tropes we've become sick and tired of in these zombie novels don't really find their ways here. Instead, we are presented with a realistic group of teenagers, all with developing and believable identities mired in flaws but with clear potential. Hunt made a great effort in making these kids behave in a true-to-life manner, one which will no doubt remind you of yourself or your friends at that age. As you get further acquainted with them, they begin to feel like real and valuable people rather than mere fodder for some zombie action.
Of great interest to me was the author's decision to make this book, in part at least, a character study about group dynamics. There are numerous scenes putting psychological principles to the test where we witness how different characters behave and react in this ragtag group of misfits. We get to explore their human side so to speak, and while Hunt's writings do stem from his imagination, he makes a compelling case as to how young people would react to this situation. Even if you won't buy into his study, it will at the very least force you to think a bit as to how you would react to these circumstances. In any case, a break from zombie-slaying action we've seen in a million other works is always a welcome change of pace.
Wild Times Ahead
With that being said, this is a novel about teenagers ironically stuck in a zombie survival camp, meaning there is plenty of action to go around, coupled with some black humour strewn about here and there. There are plenty of enthralling fighting scenes and I'm glad to see they are up to Hunt's standards, being as vivid and memorable as the ones in his previous works.
The plot itself has more twists and turns than you would expect from such a simple premise, seemingly revelling in veering through unlikely territories. While at first you feel quite confident with your ability to predict the characters' fates, as you close in on the ending that feeling becomes gradually weaker, giving rise to uncertainty. The author manages the herculean task of making us care about these teenagers, a feat which in my specific case is infinitely easier said than done.
While it can certainly be said the path walked by these kids has a few less than realistic moments, on the whole their capabilities remain grounded and in the realms of the realistic. The author has an exceptional talent for keeping his characters believable even through the tougher situations where they must go above and beyond what's expected of them.
What's more, we clearly see the characters being molded by their experiences, bearing the marks of pain and suffering from the inhumanity they are forced the endure and from the consequences of irremediable decisions they must make. Without spoiling too much of the ending, I am quite confident it has all the makings necessary to turn into an actual series.
The Final Verdict
The Wild Ones by Jack Hunt is welcome breath of fresh air in the zombie apocalypse genre, taking a somewhat different approach to the topic. While the characters are teenagers I would still say this is very much a book for adults, filled with thought-provoking character study, a realism which at times feels dreadful, and welcome doses of black humour for comic relief. If this is a genre you enjoy then I can confidently recommend this book; there aren't many new experiences left to have in the undead Armageddon, and this is one of them.
David ben Efraim (Bookwormex.com)
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