The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski
After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain. A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, the billionaire inventor of the mind-control collar seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a ghoul-worshipping cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown. To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of…THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.
Zombies are just so hot right now* Every time I think I’ve finished reading about those cheeky cheery undead shufflers, another zombie novel comes along and I find myself reading about them once again. For the uninitiated I should explain a little. When it comes to monsters, its zombies that really creep my out. Vampires, werewolves, mentally unhinged psychopaths are all good, but it’s only zombies that really manage to make my skin crawl. Strangely though, rather than actively avoid zombie fiction, I find myself drawn to it. I suspect it may be some sort of weird masochistic tendency on my part. The latest zombie feast I find myself devouring is The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski.
It seems eminently sensible to me that if there was a zombie outbreak you would head for the sea, or at the very least an island of some sort. When The Ghoul Archipelago begins, the world has already gone to hell. With the exception of a few well-protected enclaves, the only safe places are well off the beaten track. Captain Henk “Howling Mad” Martigan and his crew are used to living under the radar (smuggling will do that to you) and when everything turns bad Martigan, ever the opportunist, attempts to turn the worldwide shifts in power to his advantage. The unfortunate thing is he’s not the only one.
Martigan works rather well as a lead. He exists somewhere in that grey area that is neither good but not entirely bad. It took me a while to warm to him, but eventually I did find myself hoping he, and most of his crew, would make it through unscathed. I don’t think you would necessarily want to be friends with Maritgan but you sure as hell wouldn’t want to be his enemy. The crew on his freighter are a fun bunch as well. Look out for Mr Kurtz and Mr Mo in particular.
Meanwhile, the villains of the piece are all essentially varying degrees of nutter. The nuttiest of them all? I think it has to be the local leader of the religious cult, Reverend Sonntag. Seriously, if he were a breakfast cereal he’d be Fruit Loops. Joking aside, he is a nasty piece of work and some of the things he does…eewww.
The zombies in this novel are used by the various factions as tools in their power plays. It seems to be the case that he who controls the undead controls what remains of the living. It’s interesting to watch all these desperate individuals attempt to scrabble for the little scraps of power that still exist. I liked how Kozeniewski has characters from many different walks of like, everything from the military and the church to big business and the criminal underworld. It turns out when the world is ending there isn’t a massive difference between any of them at all.
If you’re looking for some zombie action with a down and dirty feel then look no further. All of your goo, pus and razor wire related needs will be more than ably catered for. Needless to say, those lacking a strong constitution may wish to look elsewhere. Kozeniewski doesn’t leave anything to the imagination when it comes to graphic details. Putting it simply – things just get plain nasty. Honest, I’m not kidding, this is proper icky body horror. The good news however is that if you can stomach the graphic content there is a suitably entertaining story that goes along with it. Zombie fans will definitely dig it. That said, you may have to bleach your brain afterward 🙂
Almost ironically the nastiest, most violent, moment is a torture scene that doesn’t involve zombies at all. It is pretty damned gruesome, I’ll admit it was the cheese grater that pushed me over the edge. My advice is best avoid getting on the bad side of any South American cartel, that never ends well.
Like any good zombie tale, this novel hits all the key notes I’m looking for. There is a mental checklist that I go through whenever the undead are concerned – (1) Humans who are ultimately worse than the zombies – check. (2) Characters who refuse to give in even when the odds are spectacularly stacked against them – check. (3) A feeling of impending doom with the occasional glimmer of hope thrown in for good measure – check. And finally 4 (and most importantly as far as I am concerned) the odd futile gesture or two – check. If you’re a fan of zombie fiction, then I can recommend checking this out. Gruesome, gory and bloody good fun.
The Ghoul Archipelago is published by Severed Press and is available now.
*Apologies to the scriptwriters of Zoolander.