(2013) David Towsey, Jo Fletcher Books, £20, hrdbk, 326pp, ISBN 978-1-782-06432-9
It is around 900 years in the future, and (presumably) the US and (presumably?) the world has suffered some sort of cataclysm as society has returned to the pioneer kind of days of the wild west. Thomas was a conscripted soldier in the Red army who had gone off to fight the Blues. The thing is that Thomas was killed and hurled into a pit. However though dead he is undead and now he is one of the walking. Desperate to see his family he heads off home to the town of Barkley but he does so with apprehension: Berkley is a God-fearing town whose Christians will burn any walkin' to save their souls. Indeed Thomas himself, in addition to fighting the Blue army, had a duty to burn the undead. Thomas himself would have been burned along with his fellow slain comrades but for the fact that his living former comrades had not managed to light the pyre in his burial pit. What is certain is that he will not get a welcome in Berkley and he wonders how his family will react to his return…
Before we go any further, let me say that this is not a standard zombie novel.
The story is told through the eyes of the various protagonists but principally Thomas who has to reconcile having become one of those he formerly hunted as a soldier. In the course of the story we learn a little of Thomas' world. The walkin' and the fall of technological civilisation are presumed by everyone to be related: that technology offended God who punished humanity with the collapse of the former civilisation and the curse of the walkin'. There are also wastelands created during whatever it was that caused the collapse of civilisation. Further, there appear to be mutations, or at least a number of new species, and so we are very much in familiar territory previously characterised in several novels and notably John Wyndham's SF classic Crysalids (1955). That the US has fallen back to a frontier style wild west culture is also a recognisable theme to seasoned readers and was recently the back drop to the Hugo nominated Julian Comstock (2010). Finally the walkin' themselves are not that far removed from the zombie concept of which there have been a plethora of novels in recent years including: Juggernaut, The Reapers are the Angels, Dark Blood, Stronghold, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, Dead Island, The Return Man, and of courseThe Walking Dead to cite but a few of so many. However the walkin' in Your Brother's Blood are not true zombies. In fact the suggestion is that nano- or micro-technology leftover by the fallen civilisation has been responsible for the dead's apparent resurrection and that the walkin' are – baring accident or deliberate killing – effectively immortal: they are not the mindless, shambling, human flesh craving pre- and early Romero Zombies; they are thoughtful beings who can survive severe injury and do not need conventional sustenance. It also implied that somewhere there is a community of walkin'.
This is David Towsey's first novel and it is a very credible debut that did leave me wanting more. (So a decided thumbs up here.) And as there are so many questions raised there is certainly more, at least in theory, to give. Here, I have to say I was a little confused. Going by the hardback edition of the book itself, it does seem to be a standalone novel. If this is the case then the resolution at its end is not sufficient: too much is left unaddressed. True the book concludes tying up a key plot strand, but there really are so many questions left hanging. Having said that, the accompanying press release with the review copy sent does say it is 'Book I' which suggests that 'Book II' is to follow, except that the novel Your Brother's Blood is itself divided up into four 'books'. Confused? Well, unless the publisher makes matters clearer with the paperback edition, readers will not be sure what they are getting. If this is a standalone novel then it certainly is incomplete even if a key plot strand is fully resolved. Alternatively, if this is part of a series or a trilogy then it should be made clear.
And so while Your Brother's Blood gets a provisional thumbs up from myself, much depends what happens next. If it is more of the same then I for one will be disappointed: we really have been here before, done that, got the t-shirt etc; as mentioned there are currently a hoard of zombie novels out there. On the other hand there are these questions and they do niggle me so (in the nicest of ways).
If the walkin' truly are immortals then presumably there must be some who were around at the time of, or not long after the collapse of civilisation? So what happened? If the walkin' are technologically induced then how come the technology was created and then went ferral and did this cause, or alternatively was a result of, the downfall? And what is it with this no sustenance thing? Why are the Blues and Reds at war? What is happening beyond the US or even – giving this is the far future – off world ?(At least give us a hint.) Let alone how come the Christian meme survived a high tech society and its downfall? (Unless presumably it was inherently liked with its success and/or fall?) I really do want to know more, and that is something that an author (and publisher) really wants to stir in his/her readers.
If, and this is a very firm 'if', subsequent books deliver a strong SFnal story arc then Your Brother's Blood could well be the start of something rather remarkable. If not, I for one will be disappointed as Towsey has delivered us more than enough to pique our interest.
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