An anthology that has a kick-ass cover, whose proceeds go to a great charity and that has a story called “Exploding Shit Zombies” has to be great, right?
Yeah, well, kind of.
At first, I thought At Hell’s Gates was a zombie/post-apocalyptic themed anthology, but somewhere over the half-way point a vengeful ghost story popped up. Then a demon story. Then it went back to a few more zombies tales before three stories in a row from Jacqueline Druga (not about zombies), and finally, it ended on a story about twin demon hunters. It was a nice surprise to read a few non-zom adventures, but I think the order of stories in the first part of the book could’ve been shuffled around a bit better.
In regards to the zombie stories, unfortunately most of them don’t exactly reinvent the genre. There are tales of boy saving girl, some journal entry-style stories, even some stories of people (be it military or civilian) trapped in the big city swarming with the undead. There’s nothing wrong with those plots, and a good chunk of them are very well-told, it’s just that same old feeling of been there, done that.
And then there’s “Exploding Shit Zombies” by Stephen Kozeniewski, which raises the question we really should’ve been asking ourselves all along: “Can zombies poop?” I thought this was the best of the zombie bunch thanks to its sharp humour and the nice little zinger, the kind that makes you want to hit the cymbals (y’know, ba-dum-ch), at the end.
A good thing about the zombie stories is that even though the plots may be recycled, the worlds are brand new. Some zombies run, some walk, some even hurl insults at you (hands down, that would be the worst way to die. It wouldn’t help your self-esteem one bit). Some of the stories start at the very beginning of their respective zompocalypses while others take place well into the end times. Some characters know how to properly dispose of the walking dead while others don’t even know that a bite transmits the virus. And hey, there are even a few stories that aren’t afraid to use the Z word.
Non-zom-wise, one of the better stories in the whole anthology (but at the opposite end of the spectrum from “Exploding Shit Zombies”) is “The Hour of the Beast” by J.M. Martin. It’s about a pregnant woman, her suspicious husband and a vengeful spirit. I don’t want to say much more than that, but it has a great build-up that leads to a nasty ending.
Jacqueline Druga contributed three stories to the anthology, stories that focus more on the relationships of the characters rather than the horrors unfolding around them (though the horrors unfolding around are still pretty…horrific). Her contributions are a nice change of pace from everything else.
But overall it was nice to have a variable melting pot of stories. This anthology started as an idea in contributor Devan Sagliani’s writing group. The group chose to donate proceeds from this anthology to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which cares not only for injured soldiers but families of the injured and deceased. That’s a commendable feat, and no matter what I say, you should buy this book for that reason alone.
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