Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Horror Review(s): David Wellington's "Monster" Trilogy

Warning: There will be spoilers in this post. I understand that a normal book review does not include spoilers. But I have deemed this a "Horror Review," as I know a large circle of people who love the horror genre, and would rather spend their time reading quality material. In order to either classify the following works as "Should read," or, "Avoid like the plague," I will need to include a few elements of plot, character, ect, to make my point. That is why there is a comment section, and I encourage people to agree or disagree with me. Also please forgive the length, but I'm tackling three books at once.

This installment refers to the "Monster Trilogy" by David Wellington.

The is a trilogy that details a Zombie Epidemic, and the roles of those caught up in the new world. A quick summery of each book.

Monster Island: Tells the story of Dekalb, a UN Weapon's inspector who must retrieve AIDS medication for a female Somalian Warlord. This warlord is essentially holding his daughter, Sarah, for ransom under the guise of enrolling Sarah in her "School." The "school" is actually a training organization for girls to become elite military commandos. Dekalb ventures forth to New York city with a group of school girl commandos. Wellington, you have my attention. Dekalb must navigate the zombie infested streets while dealing with other survivors, a sentient zombie named Gary, and a Celtic Druidic Bog Mummy Ghost, known as Mael Mag Och, who all stand in Dekalb's way.
Grade: A- Out of the three, this book is actually the best. Great detail, neat premise, and an actual good ending. If this was the only book that was written, I would be praising it as one of the most unique and entertaining zombie novels ever written. But Wellington made a mistake... two more books.

Monster Nation: A prequel to the first book, details the origins of the Epidemic. It is told through the eyes of two main characters, Bannerman Clark a Captain in the National Guard, and Nilla, a girl who wakes up in the strange new world with the ability to become invisible. The book concludes with the explanation of the cause of the zombies, which I will talk about in more detail later, so you have a chance to stop reading if you don't want it spoiled.

Grade: B- Wellington has very awesome action sequences in this book, but I just feel like the character of Nilla is there...just to be there, and I know he is setting her up for the third book, but I don't know, I really just found myself more excited to get back to the chapters about Captain Clark. Oh and the ending = awful.

Monster Planet: Okay Wellington, you impressed me with the first book, then let me down horribly with the second. But I already bought the third. Can you make it up to me?
In the third chapter of this saga, the story advances twelve years past the events of Dekalb and his adventures in New York. His daughter Sarah, now apparently this universe's version of Obi-Wan Kenobi because she can't be wrong, killed, and knows things that even DELTA Force operatives don't know, tries to rescue her Somali friend and mentor, Ayaan, from the grasp of the Tsarevich. The Tsarevich is the most powerful "Liche," in the world, with the ability to control the undead, and create more liches.
There is a cat and mouse game between the human factions, the undead factions, and the ghost of ancient Celtic Druid Bog Mummy faction. The story ends with all of these forces coming to a FINAL SHOWDOWN, to decide the fate of the planet.

Grade: C+ Why, oh why must an idea teaming with potential be squashed away by one of the most simplistic, rushed, frustrating, and disappointing endings, ever?

Okay, now for the part with spoilers, and the analysis from a horror perspective.

The Monster Trilogy has a lot of neat elements, that are all largely vague in the first book, which is awesome.
  • Zombies that can regenerate if they eat the living.
  • Ancient Egyptian mummies also brought back due to the epidemic.
  • Sentient zombies, because when they died, they had oxygen supplied to their brains, so they retained sentience, and gained the ability to control the undead. These types of characters are referred to as "Liches"
  • The Ghost of Celtic Druid who is the evil mastermind attempting to orchestrate the end of the world because his ancient gods charged him with this task.
  • A Russian Liche who actually wears armor into battle, and captures people and changes them into Liches, that all get some sort of supernatural power.

I can live with all of that. Most genres need a step or two outside of the box. However, what they don't need is the rest of the stuff in the books. See what Wellington does, is takes a step outside of the box, and has us all going, "oh, ok, this is new and kinda neat, please continue on this level," then takes his idea balls it up and punts it into "stupid land."

This transition starts at the end of the second book when you find out what exactly is causing the zombies. Now I'm paraphrasing, but, apparently a scientist was trying to find the cure for cancer for his wife by tapping into the natural life force of the Earth. In so doing he wounded the planet, spewing forth an unhealthy and unnatural amount of pure life energy that is for some reason bringing the dead back to life.

Really? So what you're saying is that there is SO MUCH life energy that the dead are rising, yet there is no adverse effect on the living? The trilogies climax occurs at the "Source" of the wounded earth. All of the pawns both living and undead have been manipulated into coming to this place by the Celtic Druid Ghost, so that he can overload the Source with energy to destroy the planet.

Yet when the zombies venture too close to the Source, (the same source that created them by the way,) they start to combust. The living don't. How does that work? Why would pure life energy raise the dead, and kill them, but not hurt the living? Wouldn't that almost be like cancer? Cancer is when a cell is multiplying too rapidly. Too much life energy in my mind would have an adverse effect, if it causes decaying bodies and ancient mummies to catch on fire?

Well, you might say, maybe the Source doesn't effect the living because they are already made of the pure life energies anyways. Well I will counter with this: Earlier on, one of the Liches named Gary figures out that if he consumes what little life energy remains in the zombies, he will regenerate. During the story Dekalb nearly kills Gary. In attempts to enact revenge, Gary starts to consume as much life energy as possible, thus growing him into a huge giant like creature that Dekalb and his friends must fight.

So if consuming that much life energy causes Gary to mutate, why are there still no ill effects for humans, who already have a lot of life energy in them to start, especially when they are next to the Source? It makes no sense.

The other epic fail to this trilogy is the ending. All through the three books, master villain Mael Mag Och, the Celtic Druid Ghost I keep referring too, is manipulating all the other characters to bring about the end of the world. In fact his mantra, that he asks to almost everyone he encounters is, "What's more important than the end of the world?" But nobody has an answer for him...that is until the end.

At the end Mael has almost brought his plan to fruition. He's been able to transcend from his ghost form into a physical body, and may attempt to enter the Source, overload it, and thus blow up the planet. He has also eliminated every single legitimate threat except for Jedi Master Sarah, and Nilla--the invisible Liche girl from the second book. Mael has convinced Nilla that the end of the world is necessary, and that she should use her invisibility to protect Mael from the burning nature of the Source, until he has been able to overload it. (BTW: Why would being invisible make you immune to catching on fire?)

Anyways, right before Mael gets to the Source, Nilla suddenly stops time, a power she has chosen to conceal right up until this point, to show Jedi Master Sarah, what the the other side of life is really like. Almost like Obi-Wan coming back to talk to Luke. During this time freeze, Nilla echoes Mael's words, "Whats more important than the end of the world? Mael said that a million times, and I've never come up with an answer."

Sarah thinks about this, and then realizes that the only thing that's more important is, "the next day;" the fact that there is a future. Nilla then replies, "I never thought about that," then proceeds to drop her invisibility killing (again) both herself and Mael. The world is now safe.

Seriously? That's it? That's what I read through three books for? The next day? Why not love? Each other? Sex? Power? The plight of good versus evil? God's will? ANYTHING. The next day can be even shittier. At any point you could die of a freak accident. I know time is precious and I hope to live till I'm 100, but if I don't have anything else to live for, but "the next day," then woop de freaking doo.

Or am I more pissed off because the ending for both this world/the trilogy rests upon an idiotic conversation that can be boiled down to something like this:

Nilla: Hey um, you know I think the capital of Texas is Dallas.

Sarah: Actually it's Austin.

Nilla: Oh man, better not destroy the world then.

C'mon Wellington? Why are we strung along for something like that? You've teased us with awesome action sequences and neat ideas to end us with that? And why did you include these other missteps?

Why is Ayaan's Liche ability to fire Spirit Bombs ala Dragon Ball Z?

Why when the whole story is based around life energy can a crazy guy in the woods eat zombie's hearts and gain dark magic like abilities, including grafting a tree root to replaced his severed limb, and then animate it into a hand?

Why do you have one of the most bad ass villains ever, whom you refer too only as the Green Phantom, whose Liche ability is to control metabolism, thus making zombies faster, and who also cuts off zombies hands, and sharpens their wrist bones into sharp spear like weapons, and who also has a staff made out of human femurs, and has no disregard for anyone at all reveal his dumb ass name? All though the books he is the Green Phantom. What a great epithet and character you have created only to at the end, when showing that Ayaan has earned his trust, does he essentially say, "hey, instead of calling me the Green Phantom, you can call me Enni Longstrom." Enni Longstrom or Green Phantom? After the horrible ending I described above, this was like salt into the wound.

So to conclude for any who are still actually reading: If you like horror, I recommend you should avoid. You will be left unsatiated by the let down of an ending, and the spoilage of a potential awesome premise. I really want to say that the first book is worth a read, because it does not deviate from the original awesomeness. But why read something when you already know it will turn out awful? Please don't make the same mistake I did.


  1. The "waiting until just then" to reveal the ENOURMOUSLY VALUABLE POWER!!!!TM is one of my pet peeves. Foreshadowing was invented for just this purpose. Hint that Nilla has an even better power. Or show it in a lesser sense earlier in the series. Just don't spring it on us when it's most convenient to the plot.

    And of course, another pet peeve of mine is when I am smarter than the supposedly smart characters I am reading. I'm sure Wellington thinks the next day is so deep and profound that it will slap readers in the face and force them to look at the trilogy as a SERIOUS WORK OF ART!!!TM. But, really, it's kind of bloody obvious. I mean, nobody the ghost came across in its centuries of existence never said that back to him? And nobody ever thought of that as even a remote possibility?

    Other than that, great blog. I've added you to my Google Reader.

  2. The first book is one of my favourites mainly because I thought the world that Wellington created was groundbreaking. At least in the Zombie genre. I enjoyed the premise and the characters that he gave us. I think my most terrifying moment was the scene that described the flock of zombie pigeons. I hate birds that fly at your head when you're walking so the dear of that was palpable to me.

    If I have to list them in order of my favourite to least favourite it would be Monster Island, then Monster Planet, and finally Monster Nation.

    I agree that the parts with Bannerman and his Sikh sidekick whose name escapes me at the moment were more "fun" to read than those parts with Nilla. And I totally get that Wellington had to introduce Nilla at some point and her invisibility was interesting. What bothered me about the second book was how slow it moved. I was always thinking, get there already!! Oh, and Vegas is the last place I pictured a protected city!!

    In Monster Planet, I liked how Wellington explained the roles of the Liches. When Ayaan finally met that Tsarevich, I thought his deformities were fitting to his character. What shocked me the most was the reintroduction of Zombie Dekalb and Gary the "mishmash" of whatever he was in the end.

    I totally understand that the ending was a bit of a let down but I think it was meant to be highly philosophical but fell short. I can see how the end of the world could be made obsolete by the introduction of the next day. How can something end, when it's continuing? But in the end, the premise was off for me. Why would a Celtic Bog Mummy care about ending the world?? C'mon, it's been dead for thousands of years. It's kind of like Wellington created a vendetta that just wasn't there...

    So if I were to grade the books here's what I would have given them:

    Monster Island - A
    Monster Nation - C-
    Monster Planet - C+

    IMHO, nothing came close to the initial read of Monster Island.

    Great review though!