Saturday, 16 November 2019

REVIEW - DEAD SEA GAMES - DEAD SEA GAMES BY J. WHITWORTH HAZZARD

Title: Dead Sea Games
Series: Dead Sea Games
Author: J. Whitworth Hazzard
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Publisher: BHC Press
Release Date: 16th November 2017

BLURB from Goodreads
The only way to win . . . is to live

One year after the Emergency, the island of Manhattan has become a prison. The survivors of the Colony have carved out a living a few stories above the sea of millions of shambling corpses. With no escape and no hope for the future, the teenagers entertain themselves by participating in brutal gladiatorial games, betting the only thing they have left – their lives. 

Jeremy Walters is among the best of the best, but his adrenalin-addicted recklessness has done more than earn him the nickname Deathwish; it’s gotten him noticed. Now the race is on to recruit Deathwish as opposing forces maneuver to take advantage of his zombie-killing gifts. If he somehow manages to navigate the maze of bribery, threats, extortion, and intimidation, and not get himself killed, he’ll still have to face every teenager’s greatest fear: an angry mother.


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REVIEW
I am still fairly new to reading the zombie genre but when I read the blurb of this one, I immediately added it to my must-read list. I will be totally honest I wasn’t overly keen on the cover, though the title did pull my interest. The genres listed for the book are horror, sci-fi, and fantasy which I totally agree with but would also add post-apocalyptic and probably pandemic would fit too.

I should point out that some parts of this book have been released before as novellas. This whole book is made up of a total of four novella’s or parts. Each section has its own title, Adrift, Exiled, Kidnapped and Scorched. I like the individual parts titles and I think the book/series title of Dead Sea Games is great and really fitting as quite a few times in the book the deadheads are described as moving like a sea. Or when the characters look down from a building they see a sea of deadheads drifting aimlessly around awaiting their next victim/meal.

The world in this book is still reeling from the “Emergency”, the characters are basically in a kind of prison, as they are forced to stay isolated in the Colony and ruled over by the Triumvirate. The government make special drops of food rations that are triumvirate monitored and given out by the army headed by Colonel Barkley, though this doesn’t stop people being attacked or homes being broken into for food rations as there never seems to be enough.

To travel anywhere you have to take to the roofs and go from building to building. One slip could mean your death, or an even worse fate. You could die from the fall and be eaten, or bitten and changed into a “deadhead”, basically a zombie, who craves human flesh to eat. If bitten you are cast out from the colony, as there is no treatment, and there is no cure. . . .or is there?

The main character in the book is a teenaged boy called Jeremy by his mum, and the other adults, but everyone else knows him by the name of Death Wish. Most of the teenagers abandoned their birth names soon after the Emergency. A drastically different way of living, called for them to become tougher, so they changed their names to suit this. Most of the teenagers gather every Friday for the “games”. These “Games” can be life changing, as they are literally life or death for some that take part. As with most communities there are different gangs in the area that compete in these games. There’s the Raiders, led by Bash, the Yakuza, led by Fauxhawk and the Sirens, led by Monique. Death Wish is in no one’s gang as yet, though he is a regular competitor in the games. Bash has let it be known he would be welcome in the Raiders but Jeremy has said he will never join a gang whilst his mum is alive, he thinks it is his duty to be with her and knows how devastated she would be if he left to join a gang. Before the Emergency, there were four of them, his mum and dad, his older sister and Jeremy, but when “it” happened his sister had been sleeping over at a friend’s, they had tried to contact her via phone but in the end, dad just went and got in the car to go bring her home, and that was the last time he saw his dad.

The game consists of those wanting to take part lining up and pledging what they are willing to bet. It could be food rations, clothes, ammunition or weapons. Then the players make their bids of time. When there is only one person left and no one wants to bid higher it is that person that is lowered down into the pit to fight deadheads for the length of time they bid. Once they are lowered down via a rope, the rope is removed and not lowered until the allotted time has passed by. Death Wish has quite a reputation for lasting in the pit and fighting the deadheads off. It’s a bidder and sore loser from one of the Games that lies in wait for Jeremy to beat him up and possibly kill him that gives Colonel Barkley the perfect reason to arrest Jeremy.

I really loved the character of Jeremy aka Death Wish, he is kind of living two lives. As Jeremy he does mostly what his mum tells him to, he cooks dinner and helps Mr Renner in his work. As Death Wish he has a tough, harsh reputation as a guy who is scared of no one, not even the deadheads. Death Wish thrives on danger and the ever present, threat of death. There are some equally tough males and females in the gangs too. When Barbie, Bash’s second, and right-hand man in the Raiders admits defeat, being unable to rescue Mrs Marsden & her young son Lucas when a scavenging trip goes wrong and they don’t make it back, Jeremy decides he cannot accept that his neighbour and her young son are lost. Jeremy puts his protective gear on, and becomes Death Wish, ready to take on anything. Death Wish takes his time covering his skin leaving less exposed areas for the deadheads to gain access to bite!

Things change between all the different factions of gangs and people in the colony when they have to come together in an attempt to stop a new, despicable man who believed in torture, the Khan and his army who mark their ranks with knives on their faces to be clearly seen.
I adored the relationships that ended up forming between the rival faction gangs when they were most needed. When Death Wish and the leaders of the gangs, Bash, Fauxhawk and Monique end up being held and tortured together, they end up having to rely and trust each other

When Ellethea, an older female character was helped back to her lab by Death Wish she gave him a syringe of what she says is the cure to the Osiris effect. The bacteria that gets into your body and blood and turns you into a deadhead. It is this cure that Death Wish bargains with, when he is purposefully infected by the Khan. Death Wish promises to return with the Sniper that is picking off the Khans men, but that could be a problem, as he knows the Sniper and she is quite close to him. How can he deliver the Khan the sniper without condemning her to a torturous painful death. Death Wish needs to come up with a plan and fast! He turns to Ellethea who does her best with what she has, despite people including the Khan referring to her as “the alchemist” she is in fact a scientist. Death Wish explains how he had to give the Khan the cure but Ellethea explains it will be weeks before she can have anymore available. Death Wish has to come up with another plan. He can feel the alien Osiris effect seeping further into his system, into his brain. He has to use every ounce of his strength to fight it and every bit of his cunning to try and defeat the Khan and his men.

There is so much going on in this book, it’s difficult what to say as I don’t want to give away too much and spoil your own reading experience.
As everyone bands together for the greater good, they stop fighting each other and band together to fight the bigger threat of the Khan. Of course, in every war and battle there are casualties, there are also heroes too.

At the end of the book there is an epilogue which explains how the groups have joined together into one larger group that accepts any of the orphans who wish to join. It seems like everything is over, but certain characters that fought are no longer welcome in the Colony at Colonel Barkley’s orders, so somethings do not change for the better. The gang which uses the Raiders old HQ as its base not only scavenges and explores the wilds, they also rescue and help stranded survivors make it to the Colony if that is what they want.

This book has some great descriptions and some really humorous sections too, despite parts of the book being life and death situations. I reckon the author has a wicked sense of humour, in the acknowledgements he thanks someone called Max Brooks for “infecting” him with the zombie craze! The author was very detailed about how you could become a deadhead, the different stages, how long it took, what you would feel and do. It was certainly really well thought out book plot and world. The relationships between the different characters were so realistic. Such as the tough teenagers changing their names but when Jeremy is hurt and two of the tough members of the Raiders Gang take him home they immediately change and become timid, respectful, young teenagers when Mrs Walter’s, Jeremy’s mum refers to them by their birth names, or as she puts it the names their mother gave them. Mrs Walter’s really doesn’t understand why they would want different names for…. Yet towards the end of the book she understands them much more and even gives herself a nickname. This time it is Jeremy who asks, and doesn’t want to call her it. It is quite a funny moment in the book.
I also must mention that sure there are quite a lot of big tough guy characters but there are some equally brave, tough, kick butt female characters too, such as Ellethea the alchemist, Mrs Marsden, a mother, who goes out scavenging for food and supplies with the Raiders. Then of course there is the all-female gang called the Sirens with leader Monique, second in command Trina and last but not least Jeremy’s mum.
As always, there are characters you love, such as Jeremy/Death Wish, Bash, Barbie, Shadow, Monique, Trina, and Lucas. Then of course there are characters you thoroughly enjoy disliking such as the Khan, Dutch, the Stinky, Slimy and Colonel Barkley.
The characters that surprised me a little, some in a good way, others may be not such a good way. Those characters (in no particular order) were Mrs Walter’s, Ellethea, Fauxhawk, the Gamemaster, Rogue, Master Cheung and his son Shorty.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing this book/novella collection were Wow! I truly loved it! But, I seriously hope there is much more to come! What about the possibility of monsters & war that, the Khan hinted at, or the others 'out there' like Jeremy? Are there more people out there like Ellethea? Alchemists? Someone still working in a lab on the cure?
Fantastic characters, in a brilliantly created and well thought out world.

As I have said I am fairly new to reading the zombie genre and I am discovering how diverse and unusual the zombies can be. From ones that are mindless, flesh eating machines, to ones that are more aware and try to “live on”. It was such a shame that a couple of certain characters were killed off, though they did fit really well with the plot and it made sense how they happened and why. I seriously hope that there is more to come from this series! 





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