This review contains SPOILERS. Consider yourself warned.
The first sign of the zombie apocalypse at Bishop's Isle is a body washing up near Mark's lighthouse. Soon, the entire island is overrun. The survivors gather together and desperately try to find food, shelter, and a way to the mainland.
Since I'm not off visiting my family, I decided I needed something to take the edge off all the Christmastime cheer. This did the job maybe a little too well. It's practically the anti-Christmas.
I won this in a BookLikes giveaway held by Our Pack Press and probably would never have picked it up, otherwise – although I used to love horror when I was a teen, I rarely read it now. I'll start off by saying two things about Bishop's Isle. One, it's bleak. And two, you know the “don't kill animals or children” rule? It breaks that rule. No lovable animals to cry over, unless you're fond of seagulls, but I was mad about how the death of one child was handled. Not only did she die, the moment of her death was shown from her POV. The one consolation was that it wasn't described as gruesomely as some of the other deaths.
This had a very cinematic feel. I had planned to read it over the course of three days, one part per day, but the momentum of the story carried me along and I wanted to know how things were going to turn out. It didn't break any new ground in the zombie genre, but that was okay.
There was the usual cast of clashing personalities: Holly, a divorcee, writer, and lighthouse keeper; Mark, her ex-husband and keeper of a second, competing lighthouse (one of those two really should have moved away from the island after they divorced); Christina, the young woman who Holly caught giving her husband a blow job; Ron, an angry man who just wanted to find his daughter; Gilbert, Christina's brother; Julie, who would have preferred to pretend all of this wasn't happening; and Robbie and Laura, two kids.
It took me a bit to get some of the relationships straight. Some details didn't quite make sense, and some were just odd. Early on, for example, Mark saw a body wash up on the beach and thought “Maybe Holly had finally found [Christina] and dumped her lifeless body into the cold ocean" (1%). At that point, I had no idea who Christina was, but the way that sentence was written I assumed she'd left the island some time ago or was hiding somewhere only Mark could find her. Except then it turned out she was at Gilbert's, her brother's, which meant she was living on the island. Since Holly was also part of the island community, that sentence no longer made any sense. I also experienced some confusion over the lighthouses – I initially assumed there was just one that Mark had taken over after he and Holly divorced, and then later I realized there were two.
As is often the case with horror stories, the characters were a bit flat. Of the bunch, Holly, Mark, and Christina were the most memorable, primarily because of their antagonistic relationship. Holly still liked Mark enough to be happy when she got confirmation that he was one of the island's survivors, but in every other way those two were at war. Their lighthouses were in competition, and Christina was a constant wedge between them. I couldn't understand Christina. One minute, she helpfully arranging a diversion so that the group could get food. The next, she was going out of her way to remind Holly that she'd had an affair with Mark.
I kept reading because the suspense, tension, and pacing were all pretty good. I wanted to know how things were going to turn out. This was one of those horror story alternate realities in which no one seemed to have ever heard of zombies before, so everyone had to figure out the rules as they went. For the most part, the zombies were fairly typical: shambling dead things, not very smart, and in possession of infectious bites. There were some interesting oddities, however. A small number of them were intelligent predators, and some of them seemed to be mutating, turning into weird zombie fishmen.
Unfortunately, the story had several problems. The details of the zombie invasion weren't very well thought out. At one point, it was revealed that animals were also affected by whatever it was that created the zombies. So why wasn't there a greater variety of zombie animals? Was I really supposed to believe that the island was completely barren except for humans and seagulls? The interesting oddities – the fishmen, zombies with barnacles, the intelligent predators – were just there. I could accept the existence of zombies, but I needed some sort of explanation for why some of them were radically different from the others. Unfortunately, no explanation was ever given. I think they were dropped into the story just to liven things up a bit.
Finally, there was the ending. The main reason I raced through the story was because I wanted to see how everything turned out. I assumed someone would survive, or that there would at least be some sign of hope for living beings in general. Not so much. The remainder of the group ended up in dire straits, and then the story just stopped. The parts from Louisa's POV might as well never have happened, since her story didn't go anywhere either. As far as I can tell, there isn't a sequel, so I'm left feeling like all that buildup was for nothing.
All in all, this was a reasonably interesting ride, but the ending was too sudden and unsatisfying.
There were a small number of typos, which I found particularly noticeable in part 2. The name mix-ups, though rarer than the typos, were more serious. Julie's name was misspelled Judy once. The most confusing mix-up involved Ron's daughter. For much of the book, she was referred to as “daughter.” When Ron finally called her by name, the name he used was “Hannah.” However, volume 3 had a few sections from Ron's daughter's POV, and suddenly her name was Louisa. Since Ron never mentioned having more than one daughter, I have to assume this was an error.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- The Walking Dead (live action TV) - I've watched a few episodes of this, but the level of suspense was too painful for me and I never got any further. Those who'd like more zombie survival might want to give this a try. It's based on a graphic novel series, but I have no idea how similar the two are.
- Shaun of the Dead (live action movie) - The bickering over relationship issues in Bishop's Isle reminded me of this movie. At least during the first half, it's a funnier take on the zombie genre. I've written about it.
- We're Alive (audio drama) - A group of survivors bands together during the zombie apocalypse. They have to create a big, safe shelter, find enough food to keep everyone fed, find weapons, and deal with intergroup conflicts, all while trying to figure out what's going on and whether there are any more survivors in the world.
- The Road (book) by Cormac McCarthy - If Bishop's Isle wasn't bleak enough for you, you might want to try this. I don't remember it being gory at all, but it's post-apocalyptic survival (no zombies) starring a father and son, and it's depressing. Warning: The writing style takes a lot of getting used to.
- World War: An Oral History of the Zombie War (book) by Max Brooks - This book is written as though the author spoke to and recorded the firsthand accounts of people living through a zombie apocalypse. I haven't read the book, although, from what I've read, its zombies are the slow-moving sort. I've seen the movie, which was okay (although several characters did massively stupid things). I've heard it's very different from the book.