I read When the Dead in two days, and because of how much homework and readings I have for school, that means I really liked it. Enough to skimp on some late nineteenth century poetry, write a few less words for creative writing, and…well, you get the idea.
When the Dead is about a whole bunch of people in an apartment complex that fortify it and have to work together to survive during the zombie apocalypse. Easier said than done, of course. Kilmer designed a slew of characters that make things very interesting and very difficult. Food, humanity, and sanity are in short supply and some of the characters just can’t handle it.
I gravitate towards novels that are heavy on gun use, detailed explanation on how they are handled, calibers, brands, jams, etc. I also like a heavy dose of gore and violence. When the Dead did have some gore and violence, not nearly the level of gun-love I prefer, but that didn’t effect how much I enjoyed it. At all. Kilmer’s strength is creating tension so awful, so real, that you find yourself looking away from the page for a moment because you can’t handle it. She has a way of planting seeds with each character and making you watch them unfold, knowing that the conflict that will arise is going to be gruesome.
What I’m about to tell you is slightly, slightly a spoiler. Honestly, I don’t think it will ruin anything for you. It’s the best example of Kilmer’s skill at creating tension and will make you want to read the novel. One of the girls in the apartment, Molly, is bulimic. Recovering, but still struggling bulimic. When the apocalypse goes down and the residents of Willowbrook board up the place and gather all the food in one room, rationing it out, clearly things will be difficult. Molly is bulimic: the seed has been planted. Food is rationed and in limited supply: watch that seed grow, feel the impending doom. What happens after that? Read it and find out. It’s this kind of drama within the group of survivors that made the book so fantastic. It’s real, unique, and you can’t look away.
Some of the other characters include a father and son, a gun nut, an elderly couple, and some other seemingly nondescript individuals that end up revealing secrets that make the already awful apocalypse even that much harder to handle.
Action and drama levels were consistently high in When the Dead. I only experienced one or two moments that seemed to drag on longer than necessary. Overall it seemed like Kilmer really thought about how everything would unfold and seamlessly integrated smaller plots into the larger scheme. One thing with all novels is that a large quantity of characters can be difficult to handle. Some end up having underdeveloped personalities, others background noise until they die or serve a pivotal role. Not the case with When the Dead. Everyone had an appropriate amount of time under the limelight, contributed to the overall essence of the book. I wouldn’t want any one of them cut.
When the Dead is self-published, and for the overall quality of the novel (plot, pacing, character design, consistency, editing) it is shockingly good. There were moments where the writing was clunky and I had to reread bits a few times to understand what the author meant, and one or two things that made me go “That isn’t possible or right” but overall, not bad enough to make me want to stop reading.
This novel is definitely levels above a lot of zombie novels out there (published or self-published) and I highly recommend it. Be sure to check out my interview with Michelle, too.