I was introduced to The Last Plague in its original incarnation, several years ago. It was the first work I had read of Rich Hawkins and as can be expected I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had been interacting with him for some time on Facebook, leading up to the release of his first book, but you never really know what narrative sludge is lurking under the surface.
The book was phenomenal. I loved it. It was original and bleak, grim and brutal in its execution. And underneath all the guts and the gore there was still the heartbeat of an original story, of characters that had soul that I connected with.
This book as well as the other two volumes in the trilogy was originally published by Crowded Quarantine Publications. And despite putting out a number of fantastic books, within the last year, Crowded Quarantine was forced to close its doors, leaving the Last Plague trilogy without a home.
I felt bad for Rich but I also knew that it wouldn’t take long for him to find a new home for these books. And as such it was no surprise to me when the announcement came that the books had been picked up and slotted for re-release.
And while all of this is interesting, I realize it begs the question as to what, if anything has changed? I wouldn’t likely be reviewing it again if it hadn’t, right?
Yes, the heart and soul of the book remains the same. Rich hasn’t pulled a George Lucas here necessarily, or is trying to sucker us all into buying the book again with some new frills. What he did do was another pass with the editors pen, smoothing out areas which he felt was a bit on the rough side. As a writer myself, I can certainly sympathize with the pull to go back into those first few books and update it to your contemporary style and quality. I would say that Rich’s work here was most evident in the start of the book. While I never felt like it didn’t work, the opening chapters of the original book did go by rather fast. Rich has extended much of this out, giving more time to the characters and allowing the narrative to develop a more complex and dynamic root structure.
But more importantly than the prose of the original story, Rich has also surprised all of us with a brand new novella, snuck amidst the pages of this re-issue. The story is titled AWOL, and is set within the Last Plague universe. This story picks up a secondary character from The Last Plague and extends out his story as he strives to get back to his ex-wife and son. The story is gripping and heart-wrenching, all that I have come to expect from Rich. And it serves as the perfect companion piece to the main novel.
What I like the most about The Last Plague is in how it borrows from multiple sources that I have loved throughout my life. First, he brilliantly captures the magnificently bleak landscape of Stephen King’s legendary book, The Stand. Despite being so bleak and unforgiving a landscape, you can’t help but read onward, it’s so compelling. But besides this great tapestry, Rich also tapped into one of my all-time favorite horror/sci-fi mash-ups, namely James Cameron’s Aliens. The Last Plague has the same level of intense fear that you feel for these characters situations in that, for as much as you want things to work out for them you also know it probably isn’t going to happen.
Being an original fan of the book, I will say that I have a fondness for the cover art that graced the books put out by Crowded Quarantine. The art for all three books was magnificently done and I thought captured perfectly the vibe of the series. It adds value for me to the paperback editions I have sitting on the shelf in my closet. Not to suggest that a cover makes the book, just that in this case, I really liked these covers.
The Last Plague is an amazing book, one that I feel lucky to have come across as they have hit the market. And they have only served to function as a springboard into the rest of Rich’s bibliography. I eagerly await the completion and publication of the other two books in this (hopefully) expanded format.
And before I go, I would just like to point out the inherent challenges of living as an indie or small press author. This endeavor is a constant attack on our self-esteem and while it is a battle we can generally win, a little help goes a long way. Rich is a great part of this genre and I’m glad to call him a friend. Please consider supporting him by picking up this book, reading it and leaving a review. Think of it as necessary fuel for your favorite authors to keep putting out the work you enjoy.
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