Title: This Is How It Ends (Deadworld Book 1)
Author: Nick Wilgus.
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Young Adult.
Publisher: DSP Publications
Pages/Word Count: 276 pages
High school juniors Billy Gunn and Rory Wilder return from a weekend camping trip to find a mysterious plague has wiped out their small town of Port Moss, Mississippi. The question of why is only the beginning especially when the dead refuse to stay dead.
Figuring out what happened is job one for Billy and Rory. But complications quickly set in. Not only do the dead rise, but a freak storm threatens torrential downpours as winter looms. And enormous ships appear in the sky, bringing with them alien visitors with technology never seen before.
Left without electricity and modern conveniences, Billy and Rory must figure out a way to navigate horrific zombies, advanced alien life forms, and apocalyptic storms, as well as deal with their growing love for each other in a world gone mad.
This Is How It Ends starts off kind of like a typical young adult romance, with 15-year-old Billy Gunn and his best friend Rory Wilder spending their last days of summer together on a camping trip dreading having to go back to school. It’s an especially noteworthy trip for Billy, as he comes out to Rory, who he’s had a crush on since the two first met in 8th grade. Despite Rory being a conservative Baptist, Billy’s revelation isn’t exactly disastrous, which is pretty much the best you can expect in rural Mississippi. But still the world ends, just not metaphorically. And this is when the story veers from traditional romance.
The two boys spot a boat floating downriver and both occupants are dead, with no signs of sickness, injury or foul play. This is their first red flag that something unusual is going on. The two rush back to town and witness the aftermath of an apparent apocalypse, one that they were somehow excluded from. Everyone they know is dead, their family, their friends, everyone. Well, the dogs are still barking at least.
This is all in just the first couple of chapters, and wow, it never lets up. The suspense just keeps building, page after page, and before you know it, you’ve reached the end. Wilgus does an especially effective job writing likeable characters, something especially important if the suspense is going to work. Particularly compelling is 15-year-old Billy, the story’s protagonist. He is confident, courageous, and eminently likeable. His best friend, Rory, is a bit more flawed. He is cowardly and insecure, but his fundamentalist Christianity provides a sharp and realistic contrast to Billy. And the reader routes for Rory, if only because you want Billy to be happy. But even if Rory is less agreeable, his character is absorbing, and Wilgus is to be commended for not shying away from dealing with religion. As much as I love The Walking Dead, I’ve always found it fake that they are living the Apocalypse, but no one ever talks about God. But in this story, Rory can’t help but interpret the hellish things happening around him in terms of the horrifying end of the world scenario described in the Bible. And that adds some marvelous tension to Billy’s crush on Rory, as Rory believes they are being punished as abominations before God.
It doesn’t take long before the two boys attract a small gang of survivors, as they try desperately and hopelessly to make it through whatever God has in store for them. But in the end, it might be something other than God that’s punishing them.
The book is fantastic from beginning to end. I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead series, but I have to admit, when I read the blurb for this book, I imagined it would be a hokey attempt to cash in the popularity of that series. I was dead wrong. There is nothing hokey about this, and it is as suspenseful and terrifying as Walking Dead’s best episodes. And in fact, it’s often better, as the horror is not just visual. You don’t just see the zombies; you smell them! This adds a whole new sense of realism to the nightmare unfolding around them.
This Is How It Ends is Book I of Deadworld, which already looks like a masterful series. The sequel can’t arrive fast enough.
Jay Jordan Hawke is the award winning author of the Two-Spirit Chronicles, which includes: Pukawiss the Outcast, A Scout is Brave, and Onwaachige the Dreamer. He is an avid sci-fi fan. His first love was Star Wars, but alas, he married Star Trek. Learn more about Jay Hawke at his homepage and on Facebook.