Kensington, $15.00, ISBN 978-0-7582-2522-1
Happy Hour of the Damned is the first book that kicks off Kensington’s urban fantasy line where romance – at least a conventional one – isn’t necessary. Therefore, do be warned that this one isn’t a romance. Mark Henry has produced a deliciously fiendish hybrid of chick lit and really morbid dark humor. Think of this one as Bridget Jones on ice and drenched in gore, if you will, because baby, the monsters in this story view humans as food source and playthings.
Amanda Frazier has been a zombie for five months when this story begins but already she’s carrying herself as if she’s the diamond of first water and the life of the spooky parties. Now calling herself Amanda Feral, she floats around as if she owns the world while holding court with her best friends, fellow zombie Wendy, vampire and token flaming queen Gil, and the succubus Liesl. However, the party is briefly interrupted when Liesl drops off the face of the earth and Amanda receives a message on her phone from Liesl asking for help. Of course, with the self-absorbed and not-too-bright trio on the case, it’s like expecting Marie Antoinette to find the solution to world hunger. Amanda soon bumbles herself into a conspiracy involving what seems like an Evil Corporation turning Starbucks patrons into “mistakes” (brainless man-eating zombies, unlike fashionable and well-preserved flesh-eating zombies like Amanda and Wendy) and using them to wreck all kinds of havoc on humans. Not that Amanda cares what happens to humans, but she nonetheless realizes that she may not have much to eat anymore if humans are wiped out. Then there is Liesl being MIA. Watch out, everyone, and run for cover because Amanda is coming to save the day.
This story is full of a brand of humor best described as corpse humor. How do I put it? You need to have a healthy appreciation of horror movies, I believe, to enjoy this story. Wendy, Amanda, and Gil chow down on people in this story, folks, and if you are not the person who thinks it is so cool that the zombies can unhinge their jaws like that to eat that fast, you are not the correct audience for this book. Personally, I’m disappointed that when Ricardo, Amanda’s mentor of sorts, mentions “sweetbread”, that turns out to be a reference to brain rather than little children. I know! I’m so sick and perverted that way! I blame those Evil Dead movies.
And isn’t the whole Starbucks thing a pretty cool homage of sorts to the underlying “corporations are all evil and a sign of the decay of society” message always present in those old George A Romero zombie movies?
Character development is minimal, although Amanda does learn to be a little bit less self-absorbed by the end of the story, but that’s okay where I am concerned because the story makes up for that lack. I find the whole zombie physiology, beauty regime, feeding habits, and their abilities most interesting, especially as Mr Henry go into considerable details about his zombies. I’m also intrigued that Amanda seems to be slowly understanding at the end that zombies, with their unbelievable strength and their terrifying ability to rip humans and bigger-sized creatures into pieces within seconds, can actually pose a big threat to werewolves, vampires, and other adorable monsters that lurk in the underbelly of Amanda’s world. It will be most interesting to see where Mr Henry will take his zombies from there.
The world-building is meticulous and detailed enough to be interesting, especially when it comes to zombies, which are such a refreshing change from emo vampires and hormonal lycanthropes, but the plot about evil Starbucks coffee ain’t bad either. I do have some quibbles with some of the plot development, such as how Amanda and Gil are sent to locate an amulet that allows them access to a house full of succubi in a location and via a method that aren’t the most logical. During such scenes, it does feel as if Mr Henry are putting his characters through motions, even if it may not be logical to do so, merely to create a suspenseful or spooky scene. Some explanation as to how a character is expected to stay at home and take care of the babies but the mate can prowl around bugging Amanda will also be nice. I’d assume that this is some kind of annoying chauvinist tradition in motion – the woman has to stay in and take care of the kids while the man is free to go around doing whatever he wants, that kind of thing – but really, some official explanation from the author would have been nice.
While the identity of the villain is pretty obvious early in the story, this villain’s motivations come out of the blue late in the story that I’m like, “Huh?” The villain has a cool operation in place, in my opinion, I just wish that the author has somehow drop hints alluding to the nature of the villain’s plot earlier in the story so that there is a build-up of anticipation towards the climactic revelation. Still, with all those interesting details I keep learning about the zombies and their fiendish buddies as the story progresses – those creepy police-type reapers are especially most intriguing – plus the adorably gory scenes I keep coming across make this book a most insistent page-turner. Let’s just say that I’d be tempted to bite anyone who dares to interrupt my reading because I’m that entertained by this book.
And oh my, how deliciously gory are the last few chapters!
The one thing that really gets to me here though is the vulgarity of the main characters. Now, I normally don’t care if the characters cuss six hundred ways to Sunday, but the vulgarity peppering the conversations here feels forced. Do cool and fashionable party-mad socialites really go around calling their friends “bitches”? At one point early in this story, Wendy remarks that Amanda speaks like a drag queen and I have to agree, if by “drag queen” we are talking about exaggerated caricatures of RuPaul on TV. Maybe if Amanda, Liesl, and Wendy really are over-the-top drag queens, I may find their constant use of naughty words less contrived, but as it is, every time they go “Hey, bitches!” at each other, I have to roll up my eyes and wish that these charming darlings won’t try so hard. It’s like watching suburban middle-class white guys named Elmer and Marshall calling themselves gangsters just because they wear their baseball caps in reverse, they have their loose jeans worn low enough to reveal the top half of their boxer shorts, and they have pinched their mothers’ necklaces to wear around their necks as “bling bling”.
Still, quibbles aside, I have a wickedly good time with Happy Hour of the Damned. The novelty factor may play a part in this, since zombies are something so different from the usual vampires and furry creatures populating the urban fantasy landscape and it’s even more refreshing to encounter a story that doesn’t shy away from really dark corpse humor that may offend some people out there. I hope that the author will beef up Amanda’s character in the next book because constant one-note bitchy sarcasm can really wear thin after a while, but for this book, I’m sold. These zombies are just too cool for words and this story is a fabulous laugh-a-minute affair.