I’m so excited to tell you about what I’ve been reading over coffee while getting Exile ready for launch. You’ve already seen a review for BRIARDARK by S.A. Harian. Today I am so excited to bring you a review for Chew by Naomi Ault.
There’s just something about Zombies that catches the attention and makes your mind race away with all the possibilities. From the first appearance of the undead in the Book of Ezekiel where Valley of Bones literally comes alive to World War Z, The Walking Dead, and the Santa Clarita Diet, the types of zombies and they way that they are portrayed varies. Some zombies stories aren’t my cup of tea, but others are. As a creator and avid reader, I honestly feel that zombies are like suishi. If you haven’t found a zombie story you don’t like, keep looking. There’s one out there for you that caters to your taste and preferred reading tropes.
Today, I get to tell you about one that leapt out of Kindle and grabbed my by the ankles before dragging me in. There is even a series of TikTok trailers which tells me that the author loved creating this world as much as I have enjoyed being immersed in it.
One of the reasons this Vella is so compelling is that it opens discussing a pandemic, a biological emergency where everyone blamed each other for the fact the illness existed and spread.
Considering the Covid era that we live in, it isn’t hard to reimagine the existence of finger pointing that comes along with the blame game of why people got sick and how. With Covid, we don’t know all of the mechanisms of illness, infection and reinfection. We’re only just learning the possibility that like with Chicken Pox, Covid can go dormant. While we can see a resurgence of the virus that causes Chicken Pox in the form of Shingles, Covid is known to emerge and reinfect a patient who has not had an additional Covid contact.
Where are these few tidbits of science important? The answer is easy. In most zombie stories we don’t have a viable mechanism of infection. We don’t know how the disease came to be, only that it started in a lab or was already here awaiting the right circumstances. In the early episodes of Chew, our author gives us a plausible course of infection. We learn how the illness spreads and what it drives the living, the undead, and even the cured to behave. Our story follows the aftermath of infection for several who have been cured in addition to one doctor who managed to fight the disease and keep his hospital open in the face of the Zombie Apocalypse in a way that would have a reader quickly turning pages if this serial was published in book format.
Like I said, Zombies aren’t normally my thing, so I had to acquire the assistance of my developmental editor for this review. He’s an expert on all things Zombie. So, I’ll let him take it from here before I wrap things up..
Warning! The additional commentary below by ZombiePhreak may contain spoilers of Chew by Naomi Alt. Reading further should be done at your own risk. If you don’t want to read spoilers, you can scroll down to the images of other Amazon reviews and continue reading. If you want the gist without spoilers:
I have been reading zombie literature for a very long time. How long you ask? Well I can safely say for the past fifteen years of my life I have read or watched something zombie related practically every day.
From well known works such as the “Walking Dead” comics, to “World War Z,” to much lesser known works such as “Snatchers,” “Good Boy,” “Dead World,” and even a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves where the Dwarves are zombies, (Yes that actually exists, I am not making it up).
Before I dive in, some people online and face to face have asked me, what’s the appeal of the zombie genre? Why do so many people like it so much? Well to be honest I think it boils down to two things.
1. It’s the one monster that the average person feels they stand a chance against in a real life situation. It’s just a slow moving weak human with a very big weakness
2. In this genre the world has often ended and that gives the feeling of a fresh start where you can do anything you want because there’s no one to stop you. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to live in an abandoned mall and be able to drive around in a sports car or sleep in a different house every night? It’s something we all can see ourselves doing if we were the last person on Earth. And that often is the case in a zombie story.
For the most part the stories in the zombie apocalypse genre are all very similar, the zombies rise, humanity can’t seem to get it together and we are quickly overwhelmed by the tide of the mindless hordes of the undead, and we are left with our main characters as they try to survive in this brave new world. It’s a pretty tried and true formula that has worked well for many masters of the genre and even for authors just starting out in their very first foray into the world of zombie fiction.
What really sets a story apart in this genre is when an author decides to deviate from this formula. This is where many readers will call foul, stop reading and go off in search of other things to read.
By taking this route I feel that Chew took that risk and it paid off well for the author. In this story we have our usual zombie apocalypse happen, the zombies rose, humanity fell and we fought back and came out victorious. However this all happened off screen and we come in afterwards to find our main characters in a military camp that has been built to help study and rehabilitate the zombies into human society.
Right away this is a move that is rarely done, giving the zombies back their humanity and re-integrating them into regular society. Sure we’ve seen it in “Warm Bodies,” and “They Came Back,” (A lesser known French zombie film), and the works of David Wellington in his Monster Island series. And to an extent the film, “Shaun of the Dead,” where the zombies are able to hold simple jobs and also be put onto network television. Sometimes it can work, but it takes a very skilled author with a truly unique story to tell in order to make it work.
Plus, what I really like about this route is that there is always that fear in the back of a person’s mind about the rehabilitated zombies. Sure they are once again human, but… could they return to their previous flesh cravings? If so, what could set them off, and when is it going to happen? Are these people truly human once again, or are they a ticking time bomb? By deciding to go down this road, Chew puts this in our mind and it’s a perfect way to slowly build tension in the reader.
So our main characters are Will, a large man whose past is unknown to us, and who seems to have goals that are unknown to us the reader at this point. We have Allison, a confident young woman who seems to have a unique sense of smell that hints towards an ability that may unfold later. And “Kid,” a young girl who does not speak and has been taken under Allison’s wing in order to be kept safe.
These are our “Biters,” (What this book calls the zombies), they had been zombies and were saved by the military by their cure. In this facility they are kept in what I can only describe as prison-like settings. This setting works perfectly for this story as it makes the reader feel like they are confined to this dreary place along with our three Biter friends.
And that my friends is how you set an atmosphere for a zombie apocalypse story, you make your reader feel like they are there. Chew makes you feel like you can feel the closeness of the many people crammed into this pre-made building among the rows of bunk beds. It makes you feel like you can almost taste the boring food they are serving these people. It makes you feel like you are there sitting on your bunk, darting your eyes around the room, trying to keep your eyes open for potential threats. This is where this author truly shines and shows how she can set a scene for her reader.
Later as time goes on, we meet another character who is introduced into our group named Luke. (This where more spoilers are given, so if you want to be unspoiled, please stop reading now).
Luke is a medical professional who was in Brooklyn when the zombie apocalypse happened. The character himself is interesting and you grow to like him and you want him to survive, and we’ll touch on him more later, but first I have to address again where this author does a phenomenal job in setting a scene.
The hospital is an incredible part of the story. I’m serious, the hospital itself could be a character, the whole place came to life in my mind as I read how she described it. The author took a building that is usually full of life and the daily hustle and bustle of medical professionals moving through hallways on their way to heal those who are injured, and she turned it into a silent tomb. As people stop trickling in and patients along with most of the hospital staff flee for their safety, the hospital goes from being a place where you feel safe, to a dark desolate maze that makes you fearful for what could be down the hallway or just around the next corner.
This author was able to take something as mundane as the chirping of a walkie talkie and make me plead internally with Luke to leave the noise alone, don’t investigate it and get out of there! But like most horror stories, our main character presses on and goes towards certain danger and possibly death. And it is simply beautiful…
Another thing that this author touched on that you rarely see done in these stories is we see Luke dealing with PTSD after what he went through. For several weeks he was alone in the hospital with zombies locked in various rooms where they died from their wounds. Think about it, imagine yourself in the place that you spend eight hours a day working your own job. Now picture the power off, your food has run out, you haven’t seen another living person in practically a month, you and your clothes are filthy and reek to high heaven, practically every room you walk past has an undead creature in it clawing at the door and gnashing it’s teeth at you, eager to taste your flesh in it’s mouth. Being in a situation like that would drive anyone bonkers. However with Luke he manages to keep it together, and it isn’t until he walks away that he begins to realize what he went through and it takes a large toll on him menetally, when he realizes the people he tried to save couldn’t be helped by the cure.
This is something that I can only imagine is a healthcare professional’s worst nightmare come true. You thought you were saving people, but everyone you tried to save was killed and all your hard work and training amounted to nothing when it came to saving their lives. It takes Luke a while but he does come to terms with it, but I simply love how the author states that Luke sees that hospital in his nightmares every night. Because that place was his own personal hell.
Another way that I feel that this book stands apart from others in this genre is that the characters are for the most part average people. Sure we have Allison who it’s hinted at that she may have some sort of ability that will fully manifest later, but for the most part, these are just people. They don’t have black ops training, they aren’t MMA fighters, they don’t have an incredible knowledge of firearms, they don’t have super powers, they’re just average people. They could be just four average people you stand behind at the gas station while you’re getting a soda, or that group you passed on the street last night while you were out for your evening walk. And that is something that makes this foursome very relatable and easy to like as we the reader follow them on their journey.
One last thing I wanted to touch on, is the motivation of our zombies. It’s explained that the reason our zombies eat human flesh is that they are in constant pain and the only thing that alleviates that pain is the act of chewing.
As far as zombies go, that’s a good reason for them to be attacking people, so that they can get something in their mouths to chew on. Our zombies aren’t attacking people because they are hungry, they are doing it because they are so overcome with the excruciating agony that they are experiencing and this is the only way that they can get it to stop. And that right there, makes you, the reader, feel sympathy for the zombies. They just want to stop the pain. Any of us can relate to that.
So, if you take all of those terrific qualities and roll them into a story and you have “Chew,” by Naomi Ault. It’s a great Vella story that is well worth spending some time and tokens on to follow the journey of our four friends across post apocalyptic America as humanity struggles to rebuild itself.
Check it out!
Here’s what other readers have had to say about Chew:
And now for one of my favorite parts of these reviews! I’ve asked the author a few questions and would love to share their answers with you.
Kitty: What drew you to write about zombies?
Naomi: I love apocalyptic movies, every flavor. I was on a week-long binge of those when I came across a zombie movie that focused on the protagonist surviving alone, struggling with himself and his own fears. He eventually meets another character, and they discuss a possible cure. The other character is horrified by the very idea of a cure, saying that he couldn’t imagine how awful it would be for the cured, to have to deal with whatever they’d done while they’d been sick.
I immediately paused the movie and started thinking about it, because a lot of zombies movies touch on the idea of a cure at some point, but I didn’t recall any of them acknowledging what that might be like for the zombies. I was in the middle of working on a fantasy adventure series at the time, and before that moment I had zero interest in writing about zombies, but I went right to my laptop and typed up the prologue to Chew. I couldn’t think about anything else until I got it finished. And I didn’t get back to that movie to see how it ended for at least three days.
Kitty: If you could tell readers anything about yourself what would it be?
Naomi: I cheerfully write about crazed cannibals eating people alive while chair dancing to disco. I collect great opening lines; in fact, I collect opening lines for novels I haven’t even read yet. I got Mom jokes for days. I have a laugh track app on my phone for those times when my kids don’t appreciate my sense of humor, and for some reason, I have to use it a lot.
Kitty: If you could tell your readers one thing about Chew, the upcoming season, or another work in progress, what would it be?
Naomi: At the link in my bio, you can find my Patreon, where you can download a file for the entire first season of Chew starting at just two bucks, which includes the new updates plus OTHER STUFF (go look and see—I only get one sentence here and when the period lands, the pitch stops.)
How can you read Chew? If you’re on an Apple device and live in the US, KindleVella stories are already available for you in app. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can read Chew in any web browser.
Outside of the US, until the soft launch becomes more readily available, if you find an address that you can use for billing in the US you can use NordVPN to change your location and gain access to any KindleVella story available. If you don’t have a billing address in the US you can always use the free 200 tokens offered by Amazon to read as many episodes as possible.
Next week’s Kindle and Coffee will be stepping away from horror for a bit. We’ll feature Courting Fae Thieves and Crowns by Joanna Reeder.
Until next time!
PS The season Two Trailer: