Zombies of Byzantium
Author(s): Sean Munger
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Publication Date: 2013
It’s the 8th century A.D., and the Byzantine Empire has got problems. A ruthless schemer has just overthrown the emperor and taken the crown for himself. The Saracen army is attacking Constantinople. Only one thing could make these problems look petty by comparison: an invasion of undead, flesh-eating zombies.
One young monk has witnessed the horror of the zombies and lived to tell the tale. When the new emperor hears of the danger, he hatches a wild plan. He puts the young monk in charge of creating an army of zombies to defeat the invaders. But it’s not that easy to control the living dead…
An historical epic with zombies, Sean Munger has written a fictional but highly plausible story of a battle for the kingdom of Byzantium where the emperor must battle not just the invading Saracen army but also a horde of ravenous ghouls.
His knowledge of history shines through and helps elevate this from a simple piece of zombie fiction to a zombie outbreak in a well crafted and detailed living world and time period, although a few terms used by the key characters break this illusion but only briefly and this can be easily forgiven as it doesn’t affect the stories momentum.
The writers level of skill is evident as he sets the scene and introduces the key characters before slowly developing the plot and introducing further characters. This natural progression allows the reader to become fully immersed in the world in which he has created while becoming invested in the intricate personalities and sub-plots as they develop.
Speaking of the characters, Munger has infused a certain level of depth into them all from the stocky, uncouth Emperor to the silent and frail monk Theophilus and our protagonist Brother Stephen, throughout the story their multi-faceted personalities shine through adding an extra dimension to their character and actions, and is something that raises this book ahead of many of the authors peers.
Meanwhile the story itself is well paced and with the fantastic attention to historical detail, the start the reader soon becomes immersed in the world and that again is of great credit to the author as it allows those lacking even a rudimentary knowledge of the period to effectively imagine the scenes.
But what about the zombies I hear you cry, this is a zombie blog after all. Interestingly and factually correct (well as much as you can be for a fictional creature), Munger never refers to them as zombies, a term which would not have been coined until hundreds of years later, but rather refers to them as ghouls, and in keeping with the Romero tradition, these are slow shambling flesh eating creatures motivated only by the need to feast on the living and can only be taken down with a blow to the head or fire. This choice of zombie is always a winner for me and when deciding what to read, books with this style will always win.
However, there are some negatives to this book, on the odd occasion it was difficult to keep up with some parts of conversation requiring some sections to be re-read in order to fully comprehend the character interactions and a late reference to the zombies quest for brains threw me somewhat as I do not remember that being a motivating factor for the ghouls. Flesh, yes but not explicitly brains and I wonder if this was something that the author failed to clearly push earlier on or if he simply added it to fit directly in line with Romero zombie law.
Overall, this is an intelligently written book that every fan of zombie fiction must read from the fantastic use of sub-plots and story arcs to the multi-dimensional characters who seem to emotionally grow before the reader. The writing is descriptive without being too graphic, but doesn’t shy away from telling it exactly as it. If you read only one historical zombie novel, make it this one.
“One woman’s stomach was torn open, her guts oozing into the dust, already attracting flies.”