Fiction Reviews

Exit Kingdom

(2012) Alden Bell, Tor, 7.99, pbk, 306pp, ISBN 978-1-447-21915-6


Exit Kingdom is a post-apocalyptic, zombie novel from the author of The Reapers are the Angels (2010). Exit Kingdom came out first in the US in hardback in 2012 and this is its 2013 British Isles mass market paperback edition.

Moses Todd and his half-brother Abraham aimlessly make their way around Arizona (USA). It is the slightly slow-witted Abraham's basal urges, and predilection for very young women, that keep getting the two in trouble whenever they encounter, and stay, with bands of survivors for more than a few days: so they are constantly on the move. Moses himself seeks some sort of stability in this unpredictable world. He gets it when he and Abraham come across a religious retreat. There, one of the monks shows them the young girl Vestal. Vestal is different for zombies do not seem interested in making a meal of her; instead they ignore her. Why?

This is a question and an important one at that that the scientists at a distant army base might be able to answer: it could well be critical to combating if not solving the zombie problem. And so Moses accepts a mission, agreeing to take Vestal there. However Vestal has a past and others who know of her ability are after her. Can Moses, Abraham and Vestal keep ahead and make it to safety?

At around 300 pages (comparatively rare in these days of bloat) Exit Kingdom is a tightly written, comparatively fast-paced novel. Though it has its fair share of zombie horror, there is in-between exploration of the various ways individuals cope with their post-apocalyptic world where conventional-to-us norms have been replaced by a variety of new norms and codes of practice. Like The Reapers are the Angels it is a cracking light read and certainly gives the likes of the Robert Kirkman The Walking Dead stories a good run for their money.

Now, this can be read perfectly well as a stand-alone novel. However if you have read The Reapers are the Angels then you will realise that Moses Todd is actually a secondary character from that first novel. What Exit Kingdom is, is a prequel to The Reapers are the Angels, but it is in no way contingent upon it. Furthermore, while the principal story of cite>Exit Kingdom is a prequel, it is interspersed in a few places by italicised pages as the story is in fact being told in the future as a recollection around a camp fire after the events of The Reapers are the Angels (and with another character from that novel also present). In short, for those who care, there are clear connections between the novels.

The Exit Kingdom book ends with a 'question and answer' author interview appended. Now, I have to say that while I love author appendices that give insights into what inspired them, and possible reference material, I am not usually fond of Q&A which all too often tend to be bland. In this case, though, most of the questions are answered with some thoughtfulness. There is a hint that maybe there will be a third book set in this post-apocalyptic world, and despite the current glut of zombie novels I for one would be up for another offering. Alden's two books to date are not overly long and the pages do turn at a reasonable lick: they are proverbial good reads. Yet while I would be up for another visit to this particular set up, I do wonder what else Alden Bell might be capable of writing?

Grumbles? Just one. Each chapter of Exit Kingdom begins with several bullet-pointed phrases outlining what is to come. Now, I have absolutely no idea why the author introduced each chapter with these spoilers and I quickly had to learn to ignore these, yet that each chapter began with this irritation was annoying, especially as the story is sufficiently good and engaging without them. Bell, don't do this again! It is completely unnecessary, detracts from the novel and undermines anticipation. Yet while this grumble is a genuine, serious grievance, do not let this put you the potential reader off what is otherwise a particularly fine exemplar of the zombie novel. And you might want to keep an eye on Alden Bell in the future. If he can handle other SFnal genre tropes as well as he does with this one, then he could end up accruing quite a name for himself in the field.

Jonathan Cowie

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