REVIEW: Sole Survivor by Zachary Ashford
*Warning: contains minor spoilers*
I’m off work as I write this, and have been actively questing this week for whatever the lockdown equivalent of a horror holiday read might be. It was in this spirit that I leapt headfirst into Zachary Ashford’s Sole Survivor - a bucketload of big, dumb, gruesome and frequently hilarious fun packed to the gills with killer koalas, shirtless reality TV cannon-fodder and Lord of the Flies-style descents into desert island madness.
Part of the Rewind Or Die series paying homage to '80s slasher flicks (and what UK fans would probably remember as video nasties), Sole Survivor sees a mostly-unlikeable bunch of gameshow contestants marooned on an unidentified island somewhere near Australia - an island that, they quickly discover, houses an army of red-clawed, razor-toothed drop-bears more than capable of separating a human head from its body with little but a swipe of their koala-like paws.
It’s a fantastically-written story, fast-paced and frenzied and funny, the style reminding me in many places of some of Ben Elton’s better satirical novels (and the subject matter calling to mind, for example, Elton’s Dead Famous). As short and (mostly) straightforward as the slashers it celebrates, it also succeeds in creating, in its drop-bear, a genuinely terrifying (and as others have noted, authentically Australian) breed of monster which this cryptid enthusiast found delightful.
My only real criticism of Sole Survivor (which I suspect other readers would consider a strength, rather than a weakness) is its brevity. The human elements of the story - the conspiracy, the island’s backstory, the shadowy figure(s) pulling the contestants’ strings - felt like they could have been developed and elaborated on further and given more room to breathe in a longer text. As the survivalist narrative progressed, I found myself hungry for more detail on the why of the characters’ predicament. What did they think they’d signed up for? What was the history of the island? And who the hell is Steinberg?
This is a minor quibble, though, because the book delivers in every sense on the Rewind Or Die promise of grisly, high-octane, adrenaline-pumping excitement, and attacking it for being uncomplicated would be like tearing into Bridget Jones’ Diary because it isn’t Gravity’s Rainbow. I wanted a fun holiday read, and I got it, in spades.
Perhaps more importantly: Sole Survivor is a fantastic showcase for Zachary Ashford’s talents as a writer. And on the basis of this story, I’m very excited to see what he gives us next.