(2010) Paul Finch, Abaddon Books, £7.99, pbk, 342pp, ISBN 978-1-907519-10-9
One of the good things about Abaddonís Tomes of the Dead series is that it is introducing to the wider public works by the likes of Gary McMahon and Simon Bestwick who are well-kent faces in the British horror field small presses, and are breaking through into the big time by getting published by the likes of Angry Robot and the like. Now award-winning short story writer and novelist, (as well as being a TV and film and audio book scriptwriter) Paul Finch, has joined their ranks with Stronghold. Not surprisingly, being Welsh, Finch brings the zombie back to his home turf and gives the sub-genre an interesting twist by writing a historical novel set in the 13th Century when the English and the Welsh are slugging it out in a quite bloody fashion. Not only an interesting twist but a welcome one as we are not reading a schizoid zombie version of some historical novel of manners but something clearly grounded in grim historical fact. This is a book that comes complete with a map of the castle and associated key showing where everything is, from the towers to the stairwells and even the sewer. Staying on the illustrations front, letís also not forget the terrific cover by Nick Percival. Shudder, itís gruesomingly delicious. Those zombies are heading your way.
But back to the action. The English led by Earl Corotocus have committed one atrocity too far when they take the strategically placed Crogan Castle from the Welsh and physically and sexually abuse Countess Madalyn and her daughter Gwendolyn. With the latter held prisoner by the English, the Countess calls on the Druids and the dark powers within their black cauldron (donít worry we are not in Disney territory here) to create an army of the undead to defeat them. Thus the English are under siege from an unstoppable hoard of hungry zombies who are trying to get at them, and unlike their normal adversaries this is an enemy that will never tire, never stop, and do not worry or doubt, or notice even, as their fellow undead soldiers fall around them, and fall they will as the Castle has been built to withstand attacks and is full of all sorts of cunning devices to thwart the enemy. Inside the castle, young English knight, Ranulf, is at odds with Corotocus and his henchmen and the methods they have used to date and realises that he has to escape, and take Gwendolyn with him if this bloody madness is going to stop. Easier said than done as the zombies advance and kill and add to their numbers.
What follows is as grim and gory as you would expect with Finch going into great detail to describe the various bits of body that are stabbed and severed and burned and chewed, of course, major chewage is going on here. If you like your zombie fiction fast and furious then you will love this book and revel in the body count and the carnage, although to be over-critical there is a wee bit of repetition as the English wait for the yet another attack, but itís their own fault, if you are under siege in a castle thereís not much you can do to influence the plot.
The dark magic of the Druids is pretty much skimmed over and exists as a plot device to get the zombies on the march, but I would liked to have seen more made of them, but who knows maybe weíll get some more novels set in medieval Wales. As you would expect from a writer of Finchís class, Stronghold is well researched, action packed, grim and brutal, and great fun. A very cinematic book whose filmic potential has already identified and snapped up, which isnít surprising as I was reminded of the second half of the film of The Two Towers and maybe even the original version of Assault on Precinct 13. Hereís to a film supposedly set in Wales but filmed in Eastern Europe with dodgy accents and a high body count, until the bodies get up and start walking again, that is. 4 out of 5.
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