I’ll be the first to say that I’m a little zombie’d out – After the past few years, it’s just gotten to the point where I’ve been overloaded and just want to roll my eyes at Best Buy commercials and the ever-growing stack of zombie novels on my nightstand. No one can argue that zombies are starting to become a little over-commercialized, but every once in a while there really is a diamond in the rough. That’s where Thom Carnell’s No Flesh Shall Be Spared comes in. I want to throw in a disclaimer right off the bat for any of you who perk up at all things zombie and say this is not the Michael Bay of zombie books, although it does have quite a lot of action and momentum. This is a much slower paced book, but what it takes its time to get towards really is worth the journey.
The premise is fairly straightforward – it’s a post-zombie apocalypse world, and everything has been restored to order (except now with zombies). In this universe, a new style of fighting has come in to popularity: Caged Zombie Fighting. It seems like such an obvious idea, and honestly once I’d heard it I was surprised that I hadn’t before, because it makes total sense. I firmly believe that part of what draws many to the post-apocalyptic genre is the idea of living free of an economy. The idea of working directly for your food, shelter, and any entertainment does have a certain appeal, and I think that’s why many zombie books out there stick to the before and during an outbreak as a backdrop to their story. Carnell takes us past that into the hardly-touched earth after zombie war and return to “normal” society, where, as par for the course, large corporations have taken over and turned this sport into an assembly line. The parent company of UFC, who now represents Undead Fighting, provides housing/training complexes for its fighters, keeping them on a short leash and wringing every possible cent out of them until they retire or get bit by their live and rabid combatant.
Carnell focuses on one fighter in particular, a man named Cleese who comes to realize that it is his destiny to destroy things from the inside out. You watch him go from a regular guy trying to survive with nothing more than a baseball bat and a drunken temperament to famed fighter, wondering at every step of the way in this world far too similar to our own. You start to care for not only Cleese but the people around him – his trainer, Monk, who creates a father-figure we all wish we had as a personal mentor. My only real complaint in this is that the romance feels a tad bit forced, but once it starts rolling you really do start to feel the inevitable pain and conflict right along with the characters as things fall apart around them.
I’m hesitant to talk too much about the flesh of the novel – part of the appeal is that Carnell takes his time to explain things and let them unravel at a reasonable pace rather than shove it down your throat as if he only has thirty minutes to tell you his story. This is not a race car of a novel, and I am surprised by Carnell yet again in the fact that this is his first novel. No Flesh Shall Be Spared is a refresher the zombie genre, and my biggest regret is that it came out in a time when the market is just over saturated. It’s hard to find a good novel about zombies that hasn’t been seen or done before, but Carnell does just that. He returns to a more patient, in depth manner of story telling that I haven’t seen in far too long, yet still manages to surprise the reader with a new twist on an already-old story.