by Jason Fischer
Publisher: Black House Comics
Quiver by Jason Fischer is a novel by stealth. It’s constructed of four novellas, published by Black House Comics as newsagent penny dreadfuls, that have been re-edited and combined into one story. Each novella follows the adventures of Tamsyn Webb, a British champion archer trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. The story starts in Gravesend, England, follows her flight across the ocean to Corpus Christi, her drafting into an army in a new American civil war (with Texas) and her escape to Cuba and beyond. I won’t give too much away in terms of the stories, as each part builds on the previous, with recurring characters throughout and makes a very satisfying single narrative arc.
Fischer already had a name here in Australia for writing good zombie short fiction, so he’s ideally suited to a project like this. Being part of a greater intellectual property, with other Black House writers giving installments in the overall canon, means Fischer was restricted in some ways and had to follow strict guidelines in places, but he’s done a great job of telling his own stories within that framework.
I have some reservations. His British characters, for example, don’t really talk like British people. You know Scotty’s “Scottish” accent in classic Star Trek, or more recently, the “Australian” accents in Pacific Rim? It’s a bit like that. The characters sound like people pretending to be British, which was grating to my ear (as I’m British and know what we’re supposed to sound like). There were also several instances of incredibly fortuitous timing or coincidences along the way, and Tamsyn had some very unlikely promotions and special treatment to keep her front and centre of the story. Fischer tries hard to justify these plot points, but it’s often a bit of a leap. These things, however, are less of a problem due to Fischer’s clever handling of a believable zombie-infested world and his weaving of an interesting tale with vibrant characters.
He does a good job of creating a place where people are getting on with life, having moved somewhat beyond pure survival. There are still plenty of instances of that, naturally – this is first and foremost zombie fiction – but it’s fascinating to watch society grow into something else. Something with zombies as an everyday reality.
The piecemeal nature of the four novellas is evident, with the story told in four clearly distinct sections, but Fischer did great job stitching them into one coherent novel. Each section is still marked with a title page, so it’s not like he tried to conceal how the thing came about and the Afterword also draws attention to this.
There are places where the book seems unsure if it wants to be a YA novel or not, then parts where it absolutely is not for the faint of heart. There are truly horrible moments, sections full of pathos and deep emotional trauma and the exploration of that, and moments of laugh out loud comedy. Tamsyn fucks up again and again, but survives each time and in many ways this makes the whole story quite real. Jason Fischer has embraced the pulp novella, embraced everything about zombie stories and combined them into something equal parts familiar and refreshingly original. If you’re a fan of zombie action, bow-wielding badass heroines and good pulpy fun you should really check out Quiver.