Don’t try to Wrangle Stones!
Overall I actually have quite a lot to critique about this book, BUT its in that strange way that a decent read might leave you with a lot to say, rather than WrangleStone being a bad book. Its actually a very solid read with nothing particularly terrible about it!
So what was good about Wranglestone? The story was very vivid, very visually epic. I genuinely felt like I could see the frozen lake, and feel snow storms hitting me while reading the book. I also really like that they was a same-sex love story that was just ‘there’ the story didn’t make a big deal about it, nor did the characters either.
The plot was very tight, in fact this is sort of a half criticism which I’ll explain the negatives in a minute, but the book actually felt very movie-esque, I think it was the way scenes fit together and characterizations happened, often relying on visual descriptions and dialogue. Storywise the tale was probably more melodramatic than character focused in the sense that it was about the characters dealing with the conflict that the plot threw their way rather than deep character desires etc. Zombies sort of having had their zenith already its not that easy to pen an original story and I thought Wranglestone did the job.
Again, just a reminder I did like the book and thought it deserved a high rating, I just had a handful of nitpicks that stood out to me.
Back to the comment earlier – the story felt more like a movie to me than a novel which isn’t intrinsically a bad thing. It’s just that the emphasis seemed to be on action set-pieces rather than character development or character tensions – there seemed to be any number of scenes where dark shadows appeared out of the darkness, or people got grabbed out of nowhere. Many of the scenes would have made good cinema but seemed a bit silly or implausible when written down.
In terms of tone I found the book a little inconsistent. Again I think it would have worked on film where pacing is often quicker and you do get cuts between different scenes and moods thereof, but for example often in this story there would be these serious moments with horror movies vibes, then very quickly some jokes about characters BO or having long-johns wedging. I know that even in bleak moments people do still use humour but it often felt jarring.
Characterwise I felt there was a bit of reliance on broad strokes to establish minor characters, and one didn’t really feel much connection with anyone except the MCs Peter and Cooper. For example its suggested that Cooper’s father might have been abusive, but this thread doesn’t really go anywhere other than just to establish a general sense of who he is (I understand this is book 1 of 2 so perhaps next book?)
A final nitpick is that the ‘moral of the story’ was just a bit forced and cheesy, the suggestion being that the real zombie apocalypse was our behaviour towards each other. Ok it kinda makes sense but I generally don’t like spelt out moral messages!
SPOILER REVIEW – a bit more on the Moral/meaning
So the main plot point of WrangleStone is that after building up the setting as an isolated community in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Peter makes the discovery that ‘Pale Ones’ can still be ‘human’ the story doesn’t dive much into the science or magic behind this, but its reminds of the premise to I am Legend. Basically a main tension of the plot is what is Peter going to do now that he knows zombies can be people, given his whole community is structured around disposing of and generally hating on zombies.
Through various twists and turns, that I am not 100% sure I followed, it turns out that there was an intentional suppression of the knowledge that zombies could still be themselves in order to maintain political control, however then it turns out that most of the world does know that but Wranglestone doesn’t, but there are some members of Wranglestone who are aware, ANYWAY. The point is of course that human beings are quite bad and prejudiced and zombies act as a metaphor that hubris.
The theme is a bit clunky and obvious, as our main characters “flaw” is presented as being too trusting which does lead to him almost getting killed several times, but in the end is OK and its outright stated that if only the world were more like him, blah blah blah.
I guess my real problem with the theme though is not so much that there is political tension and disinformation about the zombie apocalypse (it’s something touched on in World-War Z but differently) its just a bit cringe to me to have a story about if only you give Zombies a chance you’ll see they are people too and having this be a metaphor or even a direct story about human prejudice. Of course the story isn’t saying that zombies are like the various groups of the world that experience prejudice and hate, but its not too far removed. It also feels kinda bad that some zombies stay human and others are still basically monsters, like as before seems almost like an argument for exceptionalism (e.g. I’m not zombist because I think some of them are “good ones”).
Possibly I’m being a bit harsh – WrangleStone is hardly the first story to use mythical creatures as ‘others’ its a semi-common sci-fi plot sometimes with aliens sometimes with AI. Probably I’m more rebelling against any message that is preached rather than ‘shown’ (the real Show-Don’t tell rule).