October 21, 2013
Dire Straits and Delicious Sex: a Review of Slow Burn, by Leona Bushman
I'm a bit of an "accidental" zombie fan. Since we were freshmen in high school, my now-husband has pretty much devoured any and every zombie movie, TV show, book or comic book he could get his hands on, and that means I got to sup on them as well. I know the classics from George A. Romero to the comedic satires like Sean of the Dead. I've gotten the play-by-plays of The Walking Dead -- not the show, the comics -- and heck, I've even perused his copy of the zombie X-Men. We have action figures from zombie movies, we play video games like Zombie Bowling (yes, this is a thing, and it's glorious), and I even bought a zombie embroidery kit for him for Christmas. You get the idea.
When I was offered the chance to preview Slow Burn, I must admit I wasn't sure what to expect. I read the description on the pre-order page and was caught instantly by the setting: a pair of office co-workers looking forward to a relaxing (and lusty!) week together in the Cascades. I could see the classic setup for your small handful of "survivors": Sebastian (the handsome hero), Karla (his lovely heroine), his teenage son Jack and Jack's sweet girlfriend, Rachael. All the bones of a zombie survival horror story were there. And how, pray tell, would the sexy side play out? And would this tale of lovers vs. the undead measure up to the many, many zombie stories across so many mediums I had already encountered?
I'm happy to say, Slow Burn was a complete delight. I read it all in an afternoon, making it a very pleasant treat to spend my Sunday with, and even as I finished the final chapter I knew it would be getting another read soon enough. The setting alone is captivating and refreshing: Seb and Karla's romantic camping getaway makes for a terrific erotic romance. Forget the zombies for just a moment -- the book starts out with all the fun and playfulness of lovers sneaking sexy moments away from camp and the prying eyes of the kids. There's a sweet and tender humor to watching the adults flirting about like giddy teenagers while the actual teenagers are blissfully preoccupied with innocent camping activities. The sex scenes are deliciously hot, and perfectly suited to a tale which soon becomes a story of survival and uncertainty. Parallels between the lovers and their soon-to-be relentless undead pursuers serve to keep the tone exciting and compelling: Sebastian's ravishing dominance, Karla's primal submission, their predatory and yet affectionate and sensual chemistry. I ate it all up and I still wanted more.
But there's so much more to be said! What about the zombies? Being the unwitting connoisseur of all things undead and hungry for brains, I'm glad Slow Burn gave a distinct and unique voice to the telling of a zombie tale. I was afraid of the same old horror; Leona gave me a bite of something special. Her zombies aren't the same creatures as in Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later: they have their own sort of terrifying drive and -- get this -- intelligence. Intelligence that makes them really freaking disturbing! I'm long since done with being frightened of the same old shamblers, but these gray-green monsters give me the chills.
Finally, to the point: how does it all hold together? I've often wondered how an erotic tale holds up in such an unsexy backdrop of decaying corpses and cannibalism. For that matter I've often been nervous as to how my own erotic horror comes across when you've got sizzling sex interrupted here and there by truly disturbing and disgusting things like death and, ew, people eating people. The great thing about Slow Burn is, it all flows so naturally! I never forgot that I was reading an erotic story and thoroughly enjoying the heat, but neither did I find myself scoffing at any sort of lackluster effort on the part of the horror. Leona Bushman weaves a compelling story with elements of real, heart-wrenching passion -- moments where family is endangered and beloved companions are lost -- and you worry, oh, you worry for the characters so much. One particular scene grabbed me by the throat when the looming shadow of a zombified horse falls over the innocent and unsuspected teenage son Jack, and I found myself reading on frantically, telling myself "Oh, no, oh no, she can't possibly mean to actually sacrifice this poor kid! Say it isn't so!"
And does Jack survive? Do you really think I'll spoil it for you?
Truly, Slow Burn was a terrific story, and I highly, highly recommend it. Even if you're not the biggest zombie horror fan, I'm telling you, give it a go. Set to be released on October 25th, you'll get a good scare and an even better bedtime thrill, just in time for Halloween. And if you're like me -- with a significant other who can't resist anything zombie -- consider it a delectable bite to share.