DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0812-1
Alexander Price made his full debut in Half-Off Ragnarok, but Pocket Apocalypse can stand alone as it contains all the details new readers need to catch up and, better still, this story takes place in an entirely different continent, so no major spoilers of the previous book can be found here. The fact that Alex and Shelby Tanner, the Australian tiger tamer at the zoo he works at, fall in love shouldn’t be much a spoiler, I’d like to think.
So, here. Alex and Shelby are living together, as happy as can be, and here, Shelby brings him to Australia to meet her parents. Well, it’s not that simple. You see, Shelby’s father is the current leader of the Thirty-Six Society, a society of “conservationists” dedicated to preserving the spooky people of Australia, which is somewhat 180 from the Covenant of St George who only want to mow down all spooks. The Society is very xenophobic, however, and because they won’t work with any spooks, even the good ones, their knowledge of how spooks tick are hopelessly outdated. Knowing this, Shelby asks Alex to come back with her to help her family. You see: there is a werewolf outbreak in Australia and no one there knows how to neuter the problem. And if left unchecked, the infection will eventually spread until the entire Australia turns to Team Furball territory. To anyone whose name isn’t Kate Daniels, this is not a good thing, especially since we are talking about mean, big, and really bad creatures.
Sounds fun? Pocket Apocalypse is actually quite fun for about the first half or so of the book. The pacing is good, there is plenty of tension, and the whole claustrophobic “predator in the woods stalking me” atmosphere of the story is great. Alex notices right away that the Thirty-Six Society members are all humans, which means that they are all susceptible to infection, and when someone from within is clearly sabotaging them, the tension becomes delicious. Alex and Shelby are fun together, with an easy going chemistry and rapport between them.
The problem is that the story falls apart pretty badly later on. You know how sometimes an author would pull out a “miracle twist” out of her rear end to save her characters? Here, the heroine’s old friend suddenly shows up for the first time in the story, conveniently, just as things get tough, to save the day. Oh, and this friend also happens to know another friend who, coincidentally enough, has a special ability that can save the heroine’s sister from what seems like a very difficult- and painful-to-cure affliction. Oh, I’m sure such a twist can be done right, but here, the whole thing has just too much of a “hey, freshly pulled from an author’s ass – hot off the poop chute” feel and even whiff to it. The bad guys are pretty incompetent, but they are geniuses compared to the uniformly idiotic Thirty-Six Society to the point that 36 must be the collective IQ of all its members. How these bozos did not accidentally kill themselves out of existence by the turn of the last century, I will never know. Alex is the smartest guy here, but that’s mostly by default as everyone else is too busy being imbeciles.
I wish the author, who seems very big on championing female rights on social media, would make Shelby more of an equal to Alex, but Shelby spends more time just standing there in a scene, making sarcastic wisecracks or “Oh, Alex, be nice to my rude creepy family!” comments before playing the damsel in distress during the pinnacle moment of the story. At one point, Alex actually wonders why Shelby is wearing khaki shorts while werewolf-hunting, and Shelby remarks that she’d still be bitten if a werewolf bites below the thigh, jeans or no jeans. The author also falls into the same trap as many other urban fantasy authors – she puts the spooks on a pedestal while portrays all humans that are not worshipful of the main characters as useless, bigoted morons, while without any hint of irony has the main characters lecture these lesser humans on the dangers of stereotyping and assuming that monsters are, well, monsters and not people with rights like you and me. As I’ve always said, you cannot champion for equality when your actions still persist in reinforcing a sense of bigotry at the end of the day.
Anyway, Pocket Apocalypse starts out good, like I said, but falls apart midway when the focus shifts from telling a story to letting tomfoolery rule the day. Badly drawn stereotypical characters run amok (the other hot blonde in this story who isn’t Shelby of course is a nasty rude ho who turns out to be evil) and rule the asylum, so to speak, and I find myself closing this book with a sigh of disappointment.