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WRANGLESTONE ***

 

By Darren Charlton. RRP: £7.99

Published by Little Tiger Group.
Out now.

 

Zombie fiction is a strange old beast. Beginning as supernatural-voodoo based stories that were drenched heavily in exoticism it was the Romero films of the 60s/70s and 80s that refined the creatures as flesh-eating monsters in a post-apocalyptic world. Since those seminal films, there’s been a never-ending stream of gut-munching-ghoul-flicks and books. Some have been good, few have been great, and most have been terrible.  With a statement like that you are no doubt able to gauge my feelings towards this genre but to put it – I’m not a fan. However, when Darren Charlton’s WRANGLESTONE tipped up for review, I couldn’t hide my excitement. You see WRANGLESTONE isn’t an ordinary Zombie novel- it’s an LGBTQ (+) Zombie novel, and despite all the undead books out there, those are rare.

 

WRANGLESTONE tells the story of 15-year-old Peter, a ‘homebody’ who lives on the shores of the titular lake in a national park/survivor community following a Zombie apocalypse. Due to a mistake on his part (which makes for a thrilling and grabbing opening), Peter is forced to be exposed to the horrors of the ‘mainland’ and to help level-headed ‘rancher’ Cooper, heard the dead. As the boys slowly enjoy each other’s company, feelings begin to grow between them. However, there are dark secrets hidden at the heart of Wranglestone, secrets which threaten to tear their isolated community apart.

 

Aimed for readers 14 and up, WRANGLESTONE is an incredibly heartfelt novel where the romance felt genuine, sweet and well balanced against the required action and set pieces in a book of this sort. As an openly gay man myself, it was refreshing to read a bit of young adult Zombie fiction which dealt with the romance in a way with which I could understand. Peter’s lack of identifying his sexuality or feelings towards Cooper was so well formulated that I found it something I related to. I think Peter will find a lot of kindred spirits in the young adult readership, where I hope his romance with Cooper will have a meaningful and profound effect.

 

Charlton’s love of National Parks and Nature flew off the page and helped sell the world he has created, no doubt adding to the realism of his romance. The way these characters live draws obvious inspiration from THE WALKING DEAD and (though possibly I’m reaching a bit here) I swear I caught the odd glimpse of Terry Nation’s SURVIVORS somewhere deep within its pages. However, whatever inspirations it is Charlton’s writing that sells it, perfectly selling this monotonous and harsh. Admittedly, at times it is a little too dull, and the Zombie sequences have their clichés, but given it’s a sub-genre riddled with them- I’ll forgive it for that.

 

If I were to fish for issues, then one which did jump out at me was the whole: ‘Homebody’ LGBTQ (+) male falling in love with ‘super masculine butch’ guy trope. This crops up a lot in LGBTQ (+) fiction. As a result, at points, it was easy to see how characters would react in certain scenes. Additionally (although I would argue the book was actually trying to say the opposite) Peter, unfortunately, came across overtly ‘weak’ and incredibly fussy, given the world he lives in.

 

Finally, how great is it that we have an excellent LGBTQ(+) Zombie novel?!!! It’s long overdue and is not without its problems, but it is an incredibly fun and heartfelt read. I urge ‘Z-Fans’ everywhere to check out.

 

Callum McKelvie.

 

 

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