The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack

In its blurb for this novel, The Guardian claimed that it was a nautical sci-fi space battle zombie horror comedy adventure tale. Add to that the actual cover blurb and I knew I had no choice but to read Nate Crowley's The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack. I'm not too keen on zombies to begin with, but my curiosity was thoroughly piqued. If nothing else, I felt as though this book would be unlike anything else I had ever read. And believe you me, it was just that!

Needless to say, The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack was not what any reader would expect. Some times, this works in the novel's favor. On the other hand, occasionally it can be detrimental to the tale Crowley is telling.

Moreover, had I known of the book's genesis, perhaps my enthusiasm would have been a little more subdued going in. Problem is, you only find out at the very end, in the afterword and the acknowledgements, just how this work became a reality. And this explains the various shortcomings found therein. . .

You see, Nate Crowley was offered a book deal after coming up with 76 consecutive daily birthday tweets for one of his friends, tweets that soon became little stories in which said friend was portrayed as a fragile and vicious tyrant. The whole thing became viral and, wada wada wada, here we are with this work. This explains the author's ability to come up with countless witty and entertaining snippets throughout the novel. Alas, it also explains why these simply cannot form a cohesive whole that works as a plot.

Here's the blurb:


Until he wasn’t.

Convicted of a crime he’s almost completely sure he didn’t commit, executed, reanimated, then pressed into service aboard a vast trawler on the terrible world of Ocean, he was set to spend his afterlife working until his mindless corpse fell apart.

But now he’s woken up, trapped in a rotting body, arm-deep in the stinking meat and blubber of a sea monster, and he’s not happy. It’s time for the dead to rise up.

From the stench and brine of Ocean to the fetid jungle of Grand Amazon, Schneider’s career as a revolutionary won’t be easy.

But sometimes a zombie’s gotta do what a zombie’s gotta do.

The worldbuilding is a bit of a mess. Another book review claims that the tale set in a thoughtfully constructed fantasy world, but I beg to differ. More often than not, Crowley doesn't even attempt to shine some light on the various concepts and ideas which are at the heart of The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack. There are plenty of questions throughout the novel. Yet the answers, when they come, are extremely few and far between. The author appears way more interested in coming up with a panoply of sea monsters and excuses for battle scenes filled with industrial quantities of blood and gore. If you're the kind of reader who doesn't ask too many questions and who can just buckle up and enjoy the ride, Crowley's debut just might work for you. It is a fun and easy read, no doubt about it. But the plot suffers from a little analysis. If you are the sort of reader who asks questions, who wants answers, who wants things to ultimately make sense, then things will quickly go down the crapper for you. As they did for me. To the vast majority of the "why this?" and "why that?" questions that come up in basically every chapter, Nate Crowley refuses to provide answers. It's not a failure of execution. The author doesn't even try to do so. The reader is expected to take everything on faith, hoping that the answers will be revealed at the end of the book and that things will make sense then. Unfortunately, answers are seldom offered, secrets are rarely unveiled, and nothing really makes sense, even when you reach the last page. What exactly was that tech that allowed people to create and control zombies and how did the city of Lipos-Tholos come into possession and control of it? How were they able to withstand such a siege forever. What were the Pipers fighting for? What are those gates and worlds? Continents on one planet, or different dimensions/worlds? What exactly was Teuthis and why is it drawn to High Sarawak? How did Dust puzzle out the truth behind the Tavuto and how it was the greatest prize to go for? The list goes on and on and on.

Nate Crowley's descriptive prose creates a stark and vivid imagery. It's often particularly gross, but the author makes you feel as though you are right in the thick of it. In that regard, the narrative deserves kudos for being such a multi-sensory experience. I kid you not. At times, you feel like you want to gag.

The characterization is by far the best aspect of this work. Events unfold through three different perspectives. That of Schneider Wrack, a librarian sentenced to death for being part of the Piper rebellion. That of Mouana, a dead soldier who used to be part of one of the mercenary companies laying siege to Lipos-Tholos. And that of General Dust, Mouana's former commander and leader of the Blades of Titan. Both Wrack and Mouana regain consciousness with almost no memories of who they used to be. But as the tale progresses, their back stories take shape as vague memories become clearer and clearer. It's at this juncture that Dust's POV gets introduced and from then on there is somewhat of a balance between the three perspectives. Although it was well-done, the characterization is often bogged down by too much bantering or inane dialogue.

But in the end, what truly sunk The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack was the fact that there is no ending whatsoever. No resolution to any of the main storylines, no answers regarding most of those aforementioned questions. No ending, period. It's as if the final chapters are missing. Imagine if Star Wars: A New Hope had ended with the scene of the rebel fleet taking off for the Battle of Yavin and that's pretty much how I felt when I reached the end of the book. I've never been a fan of those make-your-own-ending kind of novels and I found this quite off-putting. It's also a major cop-out for an author, especially when we're not talking about an ending that can be interpretated in various ways. With no sequel in the making, it makes you wonder why you actually read the whole novel. A variety of things made little or no sense as you read along. But the absence of a true ending that offers some resolution pretty much ensures that almost nothing makes sense.

The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack is a dark, often funny, entertaining, and gore-filled affair that is unlike anything else I've ever read. The book certainly had potential. Lots of it, in fact. Ultimately, it suffered from too many shortcomings to live up to it. Still, if you're looking for something that will surprise even the most jaded genre readers, this novel is definitely for you!

The final verdict: 6/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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