Fiction Reviews

The Best of Tomes of the Dead

(2010) Matthew Smith, Al Ewing and Rebecca Levine, Abaddon Books, £9.99, pbk, 671pp, ISBN 978-1-907-51934-5


This is a collected edition of three novels, already published by Abadden books: The Words of Their Roaring by Matthew Smith, I, Zombie by Al Ewing and Anno Mortis by Rebecca Levine.

The Words of Their Roaring follows Gabriel OíConnell, working for crime lord Harry Flowers in the aftermath of London falling to zombie hordes. Flowers is preparing to step in as the main authority in the city after the zombies have all been killed off. But there are still other factions who want to control the living dead. The novel is structured with an opening in the aftermath of the plague for the first section. Then it moves back five years to show how everybody met everybody else. The third and final section of the story, moves onto ten years after the opening.

While this structure means that the novel opens straight into the action, the difficulty is what the first and second parts consist of. The first part has survivors driving around in a fortified vehicle, fighting zombies, raiding shops for food. Meanwhile hordes of zombies wander about, wearing the clothes they died in, seeking to eat the living. The difficulty is the feeling that we have all seen this before. The second half is interesting when establishing the characters, but when it comes to how the plague comes about, the characters go down familiar paths due to an apparent inability to recognise film conventions. It is within the third part that the narrative starts to go into different areas and its potential starts to take off. In my personal view, the story should have started 15 years after the start of the events and kept going back and forth from the start in a structure similar to It by Stephen King. As the narrative stands, the reader has to go through a lot of material, overly familiar from films before the story finds its own direction.

I, Zombie begins within the point of view of John Doe, working as a general specialist in assassination or detective jobs or both on the same assignment. Arranging to meet a corrupt police detective, he comes under attack from a werewolf. There is a British organisation trying to hunt down zombies, but even they donít know what the true reason is for their existence.

This narrative starts interestingly with the ideas in first person narrative from a zombie, his past and how he sees the world. Then half-way through the story, the plot changes, making the story feel like two completely different novels cut together. The second half feels as if it needs to push up the levels of horror, gore and overwriting, when it did not. The narrative also becomes uncertain of when it is being scary or funny through exaggeration of violence. By the end, the need for escalation, made me feel as the need to increase the threat levels to the world, had pushed out what was making the story interesting in the first place. It also has the problem of being a novel involving London being devastated, alongside The Words of Their Roaring which is set in the same city.

Anno Mortis is set in ancient Rome under Caligula. A woman gladiator slave Boda, young Roman layabout Petronius and another slave set to work in the records of the Empire called Narcissus, discover a plot by a cult to return the dead, through shipments from Egypt.

This novel does appear to have been pitched as I, Claudius meets The Mummy. However, it proves to be a very enjoyable read. The narrative has fun with scenes familiar from period epics, the chariot racing, the arena fights and the sieges at the city walls . It also manages to surprise the reader by going into other mythologies, making it more interesting.

In conclusion, Anno Mortis also has the advantage in that it is not another story where London gets trashed and is doing something that plays around with a different setting. The other two titles make an effort but I felt they were not as effective as they could have been. In my opinion, they tried to give the reader what they through he or she wanted. With The Words of Their Roaring, it is the need to be too familiar with established settings and devices. I, Zombie does start as something new and interesting, but then thinks the reader wants more death, gore and the threat of the end of everything.

David Allkins

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