The Hole by Aaron Ross Powell is wonderfully weaved genre blend that takes you on a few detours that most standard apocalypse books don’t even touch. Powell is a first-time published author, and I must admit I am always wary of reading books by literary rookies. While Grammar and spelling errors don’t phase me – I enjoy the loose style of fictional writing – I do worry about content. My concern with new authors is that, generally due to lack of writing experience, you are left with a disjointed story layout, with misused characters and poorly executed story lines, that can be a chore to sift through. Just like anything else in life, it takes practice to get things down. Fortunately, Powell is far ahead of his first-time peers, as The Hole has none of these issues and has quickly made his presence known in the apocalypse book realm.
The story begins with neighbors Elliot Bishop and Evajean Rhodes, who find themselves alone in a world that has just been decimated by a plague. The plague spreads so quickly that Earth’s population didn’t even stand a chance. With the families of both Elliot and Evajean dead and nothing left to stay for, they decide to leave their homes and seek refuge in Utah, where Evajean’s husband had once cryptically told her to head should anything happen to him. During a stop to fill up on supplies they discover that they are not alone as some “survivors” are still wandering but in form that only resembles their previous life.
Powell has further redefined the concept of zombies in The Hole. These aren’t your classic brainless shamblers, nor are they what some call “28 Days Later Zombies”, that is to say the new faster generation of undead. In the book they are referred to as “crazies”, and they are capable of some minor level of reasoning skills and their own basic language. Aside from “crazies,” Elliot and Evajean also come across a reclusive Mormon village who follow a twisted version of the Mormon faith. This becomes a rather significant part of the story, but don’t worry: there is no religious grandstanding to be had in The Hole. The twisted Mormon theme is simply a part of the story, much like corrupt politicians are to a thriller. Using such a sensitive subject as religion in a book without being preachy or disruptive is a very difficult task and was pulled off very well, despite some serious initial skepticism on my part.
Without giving too much away, the story continues to add many other elements such as fantasy, mystery , sci-fi, and thriller. About a quarter into the book I felt like I was reading a story that took place in the Resident Evil 4 world, thanks to its quest-style story filled with a murky mystery setting full of intrigue and heavily balanced in horror. For anyone who hasn’t played Resident Evil 4 (AKA “the greatest zombie game ever”) this is a compliment, as the setting that is thoroughly creepy and suitable to the stroy.
While I very much enjoyed The Hole, I did have a few issues with the book. The first handful of pages seemed oddly thrown together, as if Aaron was struggling to figure out how to get Elliot and Evajean into the car heading towards Utah where the story truly begins. I also found Elliot unlikable at first but seemed to really start to develop into an interesting character midway through the book. If I had to get specific, I would say his lack of grieving for his recently lost family really put off by his personality.
Those points aside, The Hole is a very well rounded book. As with any good multifaceted tale, it seems directionless at times but comes together and makes sense at the end. It might just leave you feeling a bit foolish for thinking you outsmarted the writer at times throughout the book.
Aaron took some interesting risks with his story, and they really paid off. I was surprised at how many times I felt genuine panic, something I haven’t experienced since I read Day by Day Armageddon by JL Bourne.
* Note this is a review of the 2011 Permuted Press revision and not the self published 2008 version.