Publisher: Abaddon Books
Publication Date: 2008
The story is set in Rome, 40AD under the Roman emperor Caligula’s rule, and follows a key group of four individuals as their paths and fortunes become intertwined. The first of these individuals is Boda, a Celtic warrior now a slave in the republic and forced into fighting as a Gladiator, followed by Narcissus, a Greek and slave to the Emperor’s elderly uncle and soon the Emperor himself. We also are introduced to Petronius, born of a rich merchant family and a cowardly and reckless lothario while later we are introduced to Vali, a mysterious man from the North who seems to be the only one who has an idea about what is going on.
Each follow their own agenda before inadvertently crossing paths and joining forces, only to discover a mysterious cult plan to breach the barrier between life and death and spell the end of the world. It is up to our four unlikely heroes to save Rome, something that is ironic since half of them came to Rome as captives, yet are willing to give their lives to defend it and the other two wield no power of influence in themselves.
Each of the four main characters had fairly different traits which interacted and complemented each other, due to this you could not help but like and root for them. There was the fearless female warrior (Boda), the smart well meaning slave (Narcissus), Irresponsible Roman playboy (Petronius) and mysterious and deceiving stranger (Vali), however as the story goes on each of these characters are fleshed out and made into real people rather than two-dimensional figures which helps you to care for them.
The more of the book that I read, the more I couldn’t put it down as like a Friday episode of Eastenders, the end of a chapter often ended with a revelation. Due to this I often had to read on, this is no more true than at the end of chapter four where the story suddenly opened up and left me with more questions about what was going on and who were this cult?
Although it wasn’t all plain sailing as I found that sometimes not all the details were given to imagine the situation meaning that it is sometimes impossible to realise the scene in your mind and you have to re-read in case you missed something. One final gripe was with the random, weird use of modern day language and slang within the book which seemed out of place, as it spends time into immersing you into the story but then ruins it with modern terms possibly to make it more palatable and for the readers to relate to however it just came across as poor writing.
The story is well paced with plenty of plot twists and turns to keep your interest in both what is happening and to make you wonder what is going to happen. This is one of the key strengths as the story progresses and you start to piece together what role everyone has to play and start to question what there true motives are.
As a result I looked forward to reading this book and when I picked it up I found it hard to out back down. However when I began, I have to be honest I was expecting more of a zombie feast and I can not say that I was a little disappointed when this didn’t materialise after a few chapters. Luckily though the plot more than made up for this and I found a great story which I would have missed out had I just dismissed the book as a zombie-lite conspiracy novel.
Zombie Fear Factor: ***
The first few zombies that are encountered seem timid with no real threat as instead of being the flesh eating ghouls we may expect they are infact mummified corpses writhing around during a strange ceremony. However as they book goes on we start to understand that this is just the beginning and is necessary for the armageddon to begin. They are described generally with good detail and their advancement upon the living is well documented allowing you to imagine with good effect what is going on, with one character even recognising that they never need to sleep and will never tire so what chance do the living have for a sustained defence.
However for certain scenes I was reminded, too vividly, of specific scenes from the Mummy films and even more blatantly that it should perhaps pay royalties to, the third Evil dead movie and whilst this gave visual reference points it also detracted from the fear factor. Finally in the grand scheme of the plot the zombies were not the only threat and you got the feeling that fate of the world did not rest on them but rather external factors.
Zombie Behaviour: **
Regarding this story, one would have to refer to them more as reanimated corpses rather the zombies we know and love. Based in Romero folklore, these corpses can be stopped by destroying the head or by being burnt. So far so good right? However they are also able to run, use weapons and tools and similar to the Evil Dead movie, Army Of Darkness they are capable of forming military formations and using siege equipment. However its not just humans that come back but also animals, which also act with no apparent physiological problems bar decomposition.
Where this does differ greatly from many modern zombie stories and perhaps is more true to the original idea of the zombie, is that they are all controlled by a master albeit loosely who has brought them back from death for a purpose. While this explains their actions the book does not explain how this bidding is transmitted or controlled. Although one could argue that control was not the point. It is for these reasons that the zombie behaviour only scores 2 stars as they are more like the undead in 28 days later (filled with rage and human ability) than Night of the living dead (not a single mention of flesh eating that I can recall).
Zombie Threat: ****
The reanimated corpses descend upon Rome relatively quickly and not only threaten, but also seem probable, to take over the world due to one key plot device – Literally any body that is killed (with the exception of their head being destroyed or being burnt) by any means not necessarily by a zombie will reanimate straight away and join the army of the undead making every living person a potential recruit.
So where does this book lose a star? Simply as they undead are just pawns in a greater plot and with no objective of their own they can either become terrifying or aimless and as the story progresses they seem to be more of side plot and this book became less about a zombie holocaust and more a conspiracy theory.
Gore Content: *
Put simply there is very little gore in the book, in fact the only references that come to mind are when the author is describing the more decomposed bodies or one instance where a body had recently had an autopsy performed on it. Even during battles the language is fairly censored with light references to to blades passing through skin or unbearable pain. This is a great shame as it is something that would have appealed more to me however in the context of the story one must also ask would it be relevant and does the story call for it and in this circumstance it does not detract from the quality of the book.
Overall Quality: ***
From reading the back print on the book, I was not looking forward to reading this story and could not imagine how it would successfully incorporate zombies into an engrossing story line. I took this bias into the book with me and so for me to end up enjoying it as much as I did was a great shock. I realise now that I was focussing on the wrong thing – this is not a movie, it needs a stronger story more than it just needs guts and gore – and after reading through it I would definitely purchase this book and recommend it to any fans of not just horror but also fantasy and conspiracy fiction.
However, for these points in themselves I would not recommend it as a zombie book as that would be a misjustice to the book and also would elicit the same unrealistic expectation I had going into it. At this point you may be wondering but why does it only get three stars? I’ll tell you for why? Simply because when it is all said and done this is a zombie website and a zombie review, and good story or not that is the how it will be judged.