Sunday, July 14, 2024

Dueling Book Clubs Review The Finster Effect

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Team Mecha Dragons

Synthetic leather wings cut through the cool night air. A snap of electrical discharge, a quick whiff of ozone, and they are gone. Long have the techno-mages tried—and failed—to study these mysterious creatures. The Mecha Dragons have left their eyries, and they are READING.


  • Katie
  • Bo
  • Priscilla
  • Ian
  • Kori



Book 3: The Finster Effect

What happens when a malevolent minister, a fast-food manager, a loyal dog, and the son of a kidnapper are forced to navigate an undead apocalypse and swarms of super-intelligent rats? The cannibalistic undead plague a Michigan town, prompting the National Guard to join forces with the Michigan Militia. A group of survivors attempts to make it to the Mackinac Bridge, while the god-fearing take on the godless in a bloody battle that is anything but holy. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, there’s a cat stuck in a goddamn tree! Will anyone survive, and will their humanity remain intact? The Finster Effect is the latest novel from the author of A Stabbing for Sadie and Kiss Me Like You Love Me, and the creator of the serial killer comic, Stig and the Puppetman.


Round Robin

What did you think of the book’s setting?

Priscilla: I should warn upfront that I didn’t finish the book – I’ve only read around 40% of it because of trip reasons. I was recruiting Mecha-Dragons in the wild! I would recruit Techno-Wizards too, but apparently, those are not landmarks of ancient cities… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ian: Well, I live here (Michigan) so, I liked it.

Bo: I liked that it took place in a smaller setting, rather than the usual huge city apocalypse.

Ian: There wasn’t a ton of inside baseball, but enough that I was pulled into it pretty well.

Katie: Haha! I get that, Ian. I would be immediately won over by any vaguely sci-fi story set in St. Louis. Is there really a Podunk?
I also sort of enjoyed the small-town vibe.

Bo: I can relate heavily to the amount of gun-wielding country folk.

Priscilla: I feel the book plays a lot with rural small towns in America, but I’m not a good person to judge their portrayal. Everything I know about this setting comes from fictional media, and fictional media is not necessarily the most accurate source. I did like the way the whole town came to life, in a way, because of the multiple POVs we got.

Kori: I’ll be upfront, the zombie sub-genre is NOT my cup of tea. It doesn’t matter where this was held, it’s just not a favorite of mine.

Katie: I’m with you on that, Kori.

Ian: There is a Podunk Lake.

Bo: I can understand that. Zombie stories also tend to be everywhere.

Katie: I’m not sure of the author’s background, but I got the impression on occasion that she was, umm, not a huge fan of the country folk.

Kori: You could set this as an outbreak during the Eurovision Song Contest and I’d still be meh, so I’m getting that bit of bias out now.

Ian: I’m not super into zombies, but there was enough other stuff going on that I didn’t mind it.

Priscilla: I’m fond of zombie apocalypse stories, yet at the same time I feel saturated. As far as I’ve read the book doesn’t add anything new to the genre, and its freshness comes from the POV structure.

Bo: It definitely felt like the author knew the setting really well, which was cool. I was actually reading about an area I didn’t know rather than the typical setting for a zombie story.

Did the characters resonate with you? What did you think of them in general?

Ian: If I’m being honest, I had a hard time remembering everyone’s name.

Kori: Fair warning, there are a LOT of characters in The Finster Effect, and not all of them are human.

Ian: My favorites were the cat and dog.

Bo: I loved the animals. Even the rats.

Katie: The characters were my biggest problem, honestly. I thought there were too many of them, and they tended to run together?

Ian: I had a hard time keeping the men straight.

Bo: Definitely an issue with characters running together.

Katie: And I felt like a very high proportion of them were pretty cruel, which made it hard reading for me.

Priscilla: I don’t know? Honestly? The book doesn’t have a main character, but multiple POV characters that become our eyes and ears to the events in the story. While they’re all distinct people in their own right, we also don’t gain a deep knowledge of them because it’s a lot of characters for a relatively small book. So I liked some of the characters and hated others.

Ian: Which one is a militia?

Katie: Yeah, the militia guys were really hard to keep straight.

Bo: Blue and Basil were militia. I know a few people like that.

Katie: So was Duffy, right?

Kori: I loved reading about the rats. For whatever reason, it got lodged in my head as Rattata, so anytime we had a rat chapter the Pokemon theme would be running in my mind.

Katie: Hahaha.

Ian: Haha, I can see that.

Katie: I was not into the animal chapters! I wanted to be. It just didn’t work for me, though.

Bo: I’m with Katie about the cruelty. I was very disappointed when the pastor was just a huge piece of crap.

Priscilla: It’s also worth saying that I like flawed characters, but some of them were outright awful people. The narrative doesn’t endorse their behavior (again, as far as I’ve read), but sometimes I was tired of reading about awful people being awful.

Ian: It was cool that the rats had their own mythology and pantheon of gods, that was unique.

Kori: I’m not sure the author intended for me to be reading it while singing “gotta catch them all!”, but it was enjoyable.

What didn’t work with the novel?

Katie: So many people were awful!

Ian: Yeah, I didn’t understand what the guy with the kids was doing in this story. It felt like he was in the wrong book.

Katie: I don’t need my apocalypses to be a joyful friendship circle or anything. But it was rough going. The guy with all the chained-up kids especially.

Bo: I feel like the kids were very important, and either I missed the reason entirely or it was left out somehow.

Priscilla: The character of Leo Pustelnik bothered me A LOT. He’s an awful person, among the worst characters in the book, but he’s the only Eastern European character too, so it fits the very harmful stereotype of creepy Eastern European. That would’ve been easily subverted if the character wasn’t Eastern European or if there were other Eastern European characters. It also bothered me that so far in the story his awfulness was pretty much gratuitous. What’s gonna be the narrative payoff of watching him justifying his torture of little children? So far it was none.

Ian: It was pretty bleak, which is great if that’s the emotion she was trying to evoke, but it’s not my cup of tea in general.

Kori: The decision to write the novel in first person really made it difficult to discern who was who, especially when the book has an armada of characters it cycles through.

Katie: I wish it had a tighter focus. There were LOADS of characters and we didn’t get enough time with any of them for me to really start to feel attached to them. And it made everything feel a bit rushed and arbitrary for my taste.

Priscilla: Most of what didn’t work for me was covered with the characters! A smaller issue was the timeline of events, because the chapters are not in chronological order and I often had to go back and check the dates of certain events. This happened especially if I was away from the book for a few days, so I think it’s a story that benefits from reading with few interruptions.

Bo: I feel like there was an interesting story here that didn’t quite work out when it ended up falling into the cruelty of your usual zombie story.

Kori: Also, here on the Fandomentals we tend not to be fans of grimdark, which The Finster Effect seemed to be toeing the line of at times.

Ian: This could have been a series of books.

Bo: Like, I can see a really interesting setup here. I loved the first 60-65% of the book. Then it just started slamming me with bad news after bad news.

Kori: There’s horror as a genre, and then there’s that sort of “Ramsay and 20 good men” dark.

Ian: There were enough characters for  A Song of Ice and Fire scope of books.

Katie: Yeah. I mean, I get that there are going to be pointless deaths in a zombie apocalypse. That’s fine. Maybe I just don’t like horror stories much? And yeah, if the author wanted this many characters, I feel like the book should have slowed WAY down.

Bo: That’s true, Ian, the number of characters could have led to a lot of books.

Ian: The end seemed a bit rushed like there was a lot more story to be told.

Katie: Spend time getting to know characters. That way even if they did die, I’d have a personal attachment to them. Not just another dead person.

Ian: Maybe she plans to write a sequel?

Bo: I would have loved a book where we just follow the doctor, then another with the militia and the girl, and so on.

Priscilla: I also missed more representation, especially of LGBT characters. I didn’t finish the book yet, so maybe this will change, but so far I wish there was more.

What did work with the novel?

Katie: I liked Lila.

Kori: While I’m not a fan of first person POV, the author has a very crisp writing style.

Priscilla: The multiple POVs were my favorite part. I like how we saw the same event from the perspectives of very different people, including more unconventional POVs like animals or a person becoming a zombie. Those were probably my favorites.

Ian: I felt like Lila was supposed to be the main character. I liked her, and I think I cared most about her plight.

Bo: When the book hit with a character, it hit hard. I already mentioned the animals, and I did like Lila.

Kori: It’s not overly wordy like certain people’s favorite authors. And she has passages where she wields the pen like a scalpel.

Ian: Uh oh, shots fired.

Katie: Haha, it will probably not be a surprise to Kori that I found the writing style a bit, ermm, terse for my taste. Nothing wrong with it, but not my cup of tea.

Priscilla: I like the small size of the chapters too. It’s very easy to read if you don’t have a lot of time, because you don’t have to interrupt a chapter in the middle. The book flows nicely and I think this variation with the POVs has a lot to do with that.

Bo: Agreed, Kori, the style was nice and efficient. And I’ll ignore the dig this time. I also liked Basil, who despite the country bumpkin intro ended up being one of the better, more rational people in the book.

Katie: I liked Basil too! I thought the general concept of following a local militia during an apocalypse was interesting, even if I didn’t necessarily like the execution of it.

Ian: I really enjoyed the rat mythology. I wanted that to get explored more. However, there was enough just thrown out there that it was really cool.

Kori: I too enjoyed the PokeRats.

Bo: I could read an entire book about the rats.

Kori: I’d have rather had the entire book be about the rats and their slow rise to power, to be honest. That’s a new take that was rather fun to read.

Ian: I loved the cat and dog sections, and the rats also because the syntax was perfect. I really got the sense of how dogs and cats think.

Katie: Haha, I feel like I’m missing out! I did not really like the rats. I can’t pinpoint why, I feel like it’s irrational on my part. But those chapters irked me.

Kori: Too much time with elves and ents.

Katie: Hahaha. FAIR, you are not wrong about that.

Overall thoughts?

Bo: There were some really good ideas here that unfortunately fell away when the savagery kicked in. Expand those ideas over the entirety and it’s a much better book.

Kori: I don’t necessarily think this is a bad book. But I don’t think this particular genre or tone is our club’s cup of tea.

Bo: I’m a bigger fan of zombie stories than everyone else seems to be, so I liked it. I just would have preferred to see some of the fresh ideas over the first half continue on.

Kori: That said, it was a concise read, and the author has a distinguishable writing style. Slow down and focus on one of the characters (the rats), and I’d be interested in reading more.

Ian: I liked it in general, but zombies aren’t my fave.

Katie: I thought there were lots of good ideas but that the execution was a bit lacking. The characters needed to be stronger and steadier and that would have lifted up everything else around it. Oh! And I forgot to mention before but I was a little bummed out by the treatment of religion and prescription meds, haha. And I thought the Evil Corporation spin was fine but nothing super original. All that said, I’d definitely read another by the author. I get the impression she’s pretty creative.

Priscilla: It’s hard to judge a book by 40% of its content, but I plan to finish reading it, so you can say I’m liking the book so far. The zombie genre is a bit overused, so the multiple POVs were a much-needed fresh breeze. While not all characters worked for me, a lot of them did, especially the more unconventional POVs. It’s a pleasant read with an interesting structure.

Ian: I could have used more time with the animals and maybe pare down the number of humans. Some of the characters felt like they deserved their own separate book.

Bo: It felt like the author felt pressure to put your usual zombie tropes. Maybe next time there’s a greater freedom to blaze her own path with whatever she writes.

Kori: And she should write about the rats. OR. OR. DRAGONS.



Bo: Sign me up.

Ian: *undead dragon noises*

Kori: That’s our cue! Check back next month!

Image courtesy of Wednesday Lee Friday

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