I’m not a fan of horror. The last horror movie I saw was 28 Days Later when I was in Year 11 and it was the end of year movie that all the rugby lads in my year picked, so I was forced to sit there watching it when I’d much rather have been doing something more entertaining and less scary, like doing the cosmo quiz with my friend or watching paint dry.
I am a huge wimp. Seriously. Huge.
So I found it both strange and intriguing when a copy of Wranglestone landed in my pigeon hole at work last year. Reading the back, it didn’t really sound like me. Outdoorsy adventure set in the cold northern reaches of the USA, in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Not much of that appeals to me. So, it went onto my TBR pile to be read some other time…
January comes, and I’m in a reading funk. Digging back through my slightly abandoned pile, I find Wranglestone, and out falls a note from the lovely, excellent, wonderful George at Little Tiger that I’d missed first time round. “You requested a copy of Proud earlier in the year, so thought you’d like this. Enjoy!” And suddenly, with gaydar a tingling (not a euphemism), I was intrigued.
Wranglestone isn’t your typical zombie apocalypse, fight for survival, oh-no-there’s-a-secret-zombie-in-the-camp-because-Jonny-Arrogant-over-there-didn’t-bother-telling-us-he-was-bitten kind of story. And I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much.
Camp Wranglestone is a series of islands in one of the lakes of the American National Parks, and is one of a few refuges for humans after a zombie virus decimated the US population. The islanders are safe (the Restless Ones can’t swim) until the snow begins to fall and the lake freezes, giving the Restless Ones an uninterrupted path over to them. And that’s where the story begins. Almost. It actually starts with the main character, Peter, meeting a stranger and getting stabbed. Y’know, nice and upbeat.
The upside of being stabbed though is that Cooper, the handsome rancher who Peter has been pining over from afar for years, actually notices him. And, wouldn’t you know it, he’s always had a bit of a thing for our boy Pete as well! Hooray! Go and buy a new hat because we’re planning a wedding!
Except, this can’t all go that perfectly, because tragic gay fiction. Cooper gets bitten and begins the journey to un-death. Not in an irresponsible way, he lets everyone know and gets walked to the place where those who are about to die are taken, to meet the mysterious figure of the Chaperone, who escorts the dying to what is believed to be a safe place for them to die. Except, it turns out, dying isn’t necessarily the end for everyone…
I honestly loved this book so much, and I’m so annoyed that it took me so long to read it. It’s a story about the importance of family and friendships, about duty, about first love and (going to sound really soppy here) how love can overcome so many problems in life, even dying. It also reframes the zombie story really amazingly, shifting the focus from the dead and onto the people left behind, but not in a fight for survival, everyone for themselves kind of way. Instead, it really proves that no man is an island (get it… cause it’s set on islands… never mind).
What I love as well is that the relationship between Peter and Cooper doesn’t seem forced. It seems natural and almost incidental, like the fact that it’s two men falling in love is just a side point, rather than the only thing that matters. Their personas are also counterpoints, on the surface representing the perceived two types of gay man: “straight acting” and masculine, outdoorsy, rugged one, and the more effeminate, quite, emotional one. However, as the story progresses, these stereotypes are completely subverted, with Peter proving his resourcefulness, daring, and resilience, and Cooper expressing his thoughts and feelings, and being much more open. It’s so well done, it’s just excellent.
I honestly cannot recommend this enough, I have fallen hopelessly for Peter and Cooper, and I really hope that we get more about them and the world of Wranglestone.
Wranglestone – Darren Charlton ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐