Book Review: The Life and Death of Zebulon Finch: Edge of Empire, by Daniel Kraus

4.5 stars

I received this as an ARC in a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Goodreads. 

Zebulon Finch is a (mostly) horrible person. He dies at seventeen (in 1896). Sort of. He’s basically a zombie that doesn’t eat brains. He may bash them out of your skull, but he doesn’t eat them. Enter a traveling medicine/freak show, industrialism, WWI, flappers, a Frankenstein character, a serial killer, the movie industry/hotties from the beginning of the talkies, and lots of decay, and you’ve got yourself an epic. And this is only part one, folks!

Kraus packs so much content into this book (following Finch from slightly before his death in 1896 to December 7, 1941) that it struck me as borderline heroic. I seriously can’t imagine the amount of research that went into this. Yet it doesn’t read as one giant info dump, and retains a functioning story line written in quite beautiful prose. Bravo, Kraus. Bravo.

Kraus writes as Zebulon, walled up (think Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, except he’s okay with it) and writing his memoirs. Because of this style, I think, some of the story lags in places. (Sometimes folks writing diaries/memoirs think things are more interesting than they are.) It doesn’t lag for long, though. And even the lagging bits tie back to the overall story; they’re not there simply to fill pages. (Who would need to fill pages when you’ve already got 642?)

I knocked off a half star because…I’m not sure why. There’s just something that didn’t sit quite right with me. I’m thinking it may be lack of tension, given that our protag is undead and there’s never any real fear for his safety (and he’s not a very sympathetic character). Or it may be the few bits of lag, even if they are tied into the story. Not sure; I just can’t manage to give it five. Maybe I’m just stingy with the 5s.

Definitely worth the read, and I’m looking forward to Vol. 2!




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