Sunday, June 8, 2014

Zombies At Tiffany's - AudioReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

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"A steampunked story of diamonds, chutzpah, death and horror from the blood-drenched pen of Sam Stone."

Author Sam Stone came to my attention after reading the first in her "The Vampire Gene" book series, "Killing Kiss", a tale of seventeenth century vampire Gabriele Caccini. I have been a fan of the vampire genre since my first taste of Hammer Films productions such as "Dracula AD 1972", and so this was just right down my street, along the darkest alley, and through the creepiest cemetery. In 2012, this talented lady published a title via the Telos Publishing label featuring my second favourite creature: "Zombies At Tiffany's", a novella set in 1862, gives us jewellery, Steampunk weaponry, balls, and enough narrative to satisfy. Having had the fortune to review an audiobook adaptation, skillfully produced by those hard-working people at Spokenworld Audio, it was time to review...

"Zombies" is the first in the "Kat Lightfoot Mysteries", a Steampunk adventure that will absorb from beginning to end. This is also my first step into Steampunk, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect... Set during the American Civil War, we first encounter Henry (the part read by Texas-born and award-winning voice artist Kaleo Griffith), whose own experiences of a strange sickness affecting fellow soldiers on the battlefield are recorded in a letter to his sister, Kat. Next we are introduced to Kat Lightfoot (this is where American-born Stephanie Cannon takes over as narrator), whose immediate worries are supporting her family. She is offered a job at Tiffany’s Jewellery Store, in New York, where her pleasant and sparky demeanor shines as an asset to the company. Things are going relatively well, for awhile. That is, until an evil reveals itself, engulfing the neighbourhood into a bloody battlefield of its very own! A zombie plague, manifesting in the bodies of the living, threatens to plunge America, and quite probably the world, into darkness.

Stone's attention to detail, and knowledge of historical events, is impressive as she weaves a fascinating drama quite different from what you would first expect. The American Civil War, and Tiffany's as a location, are superb choices; as are the characters, whose fates bring them together in a battle against the undead.

Reminiscent of Dan O'Bannon's 1985 comedy horror "Return of the Living Dead" ("Brains!"), Sam Stone's use of the "I'm hungry!" element really does add that extra shiver, giving her zombies a voice instead of just a shuffling presence. Though "dead", there is clearly something else within them, a presence... the sickness! This defines them as supernatural, and linked by a single consciousness, unlike zombies of other tales, who wander aimlessly. This is proven by their ability to turn on any zombie that truly "dies", thus no longer possessed by this horrifying illness. They are also able to communicate with one another, even when not in the same room, or building.

So just what is Kat's portrayal in the novella? Well, firstly she is a simple girl, but one with steel determination and guts. When the world falls apart she takes to defending Tiffany's with weaponry engineered by the store's jewellery designer, Martin, whose talents produce some remarkably sophisticated additions, to say the least. Though the majority of the characters are likable, it is Kat who shines, as well she should. This is her story, and one that illuminates throughout. The dialogue, sharp and widely descriptive, sets the scenes perfectly. Cut off from her mother and sister - and brother - the options are limiting. But this heroine refuses to give up the fight. Think Ellen Ripley's kick-ass attitude in the "Alien" films combined with the sophistication of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women", and you get the idea...

I was intrigued by an email received from the author, following initial contact. Her research revealed that Tiffany and Co. had produced "surgical instruments and weapons for the American Civil War" - I looked a little closer into this and read on several websites that the store specialised in decorative guns and swords in the 1850s, with work on these rising during the 1861 to 1865 conflict. This knowledge adds extra dimension to "Zombies At Tiffany's", an audiobook that I just had to relisten to a second time.

Though it plays homage to Truman Capote's 1958 novella "Breakfast At Tiffany's", Stone's approach to "Zombies" allows for a world of its very own, with room for follow-ups such as "Kat on a Hot Tin Airship" (published by To make it clear, Kat Lightfoot's adventure is not a parody of Capote's story - as writer Seth Grahame-Smith's 2009 book "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" did for Jane Austen's masterpiece - but an original tale with three-dimensional characters and a fine premise! You can be forgiven for thinking the former. However, it is recommended that any horror fan take a look at both this and the author's other collection of work, which includes "Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings". Poor America, it is getting a terrible zombie battering of late...

(Just out of interest, the wonderful covers for both "Zombies At Tiffany's" and "Kat on a Hot Tin Airship" are designed by Martin Baines - both utterly delicious! Baines's work includes designing the cover for "White Witch of Devil's End", illustrating covers for Sam Stone's "A Vampire Gene" novels, and art for advertising)

And so to the audiobook itself: Spokenworld Audio always chooses wisely with narrators, and Stephanie Cannon is most definitely a treasure trove of genius! If you have ever listened to the audio samples on this lady's official website then you will know just how versatile and talented she can be. Cannon also narrated the audiobook of "Zombies in New York", produced by Ladbroke Audio and originally available via the now defunct AudioGO Ltd. Award-winning writer and producer Neil Gardner gives us a four-hour audiobook of the finest caliber, with Kaleo Griffith equally delivering as Kat's brother. And as you would expect for zombies, there are some scenes adult in nature, with strong language to match!

Conclusion? Sam Stone's gothic tale of steampunk offers gore delight and pleasant company with Kat Lightfoot. You may need a cat...

You can obtain the audiobook of "Zombies At Tiffany's" for download at Spokenworld Audio (£7.99 ex. VAT for UK/EU), or purchase Zombies At Tiffany's from the Starfoyer Enterprise Store: Book - Paperback

Picture courtesy of Spokenworld Audio