Saturday 22 May 2010

Review: The Dead by David Gatward

Lazarus Stone is about to turn sixteen when, one night, his normal life is ripped to shreds by a skinless figure drenched in blood. He has a message: The Dead are coming.

Now Lazarus is all that stands in their way. To fulfill his destiny, he must confront not only the dark past of his family, but horrors more gruesome than even Hell could invent. And it all begins with the reek of rotting flesh…

YA horror is big at the moment, and it seems that nary a month goes by without another one appearing on the market. Vampires, of course, seem to be the nether creature of choice at the moment, but demons (in various guises) aren't trailing too far behind. In the last few years we have been treated to, amongst many others, Darren Shan's Demonata series, Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist and Sarwat Chadda's Devil's Kiss. So, when I first read about David Gatward's The Dead, the question that jumped immediately into my brain was does the world really need another YA demon story? I for one am all vampired out at the moment. Thus, when I received a proof copy from the kind people at Hodder, it was with an unsually critical frame of mind that I started reading it. And yet, despite this pessimism, I loved this book.

It is difficult not to compare any book in the demon genre with Darren Shan's work, but I am sure that Mr Gatward will be glad to hear that the comparisons in this case are certainly favourable. I love the Demonata series for the gorefest that it is, but Shan has a way of getting away with such extremes, and this is what makes his books special, even though he is not a particularly great writer in the technical sense. The Dead starts off as a conversation between man character Lazarus Stone and his friend Craig and BLAM!.... chapter three hits you right between the eyes with a particularly bloody scene (more about this in a minute). But where Shan lays the gore on pretty thick, this was a much more considered scene. In fact, on a second read it isn't particularly gory at all, but the description of Red as he first appears in Lazarus' life will most definitely make you cringe - I certainly felt a shiver run down my spine. In fact, why not give it a try now by downloading this pdf of Chapter 3 from David Gatward's website!

I said I would come back to the description of Red. Anybody who has seen Clive Barker's Hellraiser movie will, I am sure, agree that Mr Gatward has been influenced by a scene from this classic horror film. I love the passage that reads: "Lazarus couldn't yet tell if the thing was male or female, but it was definitely naked, or so he guessed. He couldn't see any clothes, not unless they, like the rest of its body, were covered - no, drenched - in blood. From there on down, the figure was stripped of most of its skin. He could see individual muscles and tendons tensing, relaxing. And around the figure's feet, as they rested together on the floor, a dark pool was spreading". If you are a horror fan and that doesn't persuade you to rush out and buy this book then nothing will.

On the basis of Chapter 3 I was expecting the gore factor to increase throughout the book, but I was pleasantly surprised. David Gatward is actually pretty restrained when it comes to writing his horror scenes, but this doesn't mean that the chill factor is anything less than terrifying. There is one scene in particular, where Lazarus is in hospital, that I particularly loved. It is scary, yet there is hardly a drop of blood in sight, and Lazarus' life is certainly in great peril I won't say much more... just watch out for the nurse! This is the kind of horror writing that plays on your mind as it feeds the dark fringes of your imagination, and turns dreams into nightmares without warning.

Sadly, this book is not perfect. I have one big criticism - at 230 pages it simply isn't long enough. I know it is the first in the series, and as such it certainly does the job of introducing us to important characters and major plot threads, but in personally felt that it could quite comfortably have benefited from being at least another fifty pages longer. With this is mind, don't expect a nice, neat ending with a few plot threads left unresolved to take you into the next in the series. This book ends on a massive cliffhanger, and very little in the way of loose ends being tied off, and this cause a few readers to grumble. However, what it will do though is leave you hungry for the next instalment, The Dark, scheduled for an October 2010 release.

Short-ish books are very difficult to review without giving away too many spoilers, so from now on I will be careful. As a debut novel I also know very little about the author, and I would hate to make assumptions about his inspirations for writing. However, in my opinion there is most definitely a biblical link here - Lazarus' name for a start (and what a great name for a character in a YA horror story it is). Red is also descried as being one of the Fallen, and it looks like we may even be taking a journey into Hell in future books. Although, maybe not, as last time I looked I am not sure there was an alcoholic angel mentioned anywhere in the Good Book? Mr Gatward has very kindly promised to take part in an interview for the Book Zone in the near future, so hopefully we will find out a lot more about him and where he wants his story to go very soon. Watch this space.

On the evidence of The Dead, and with the sequel coming out only a few months later, I think David Gatward is going to become a big name in YA horror circles, especially as the cliffhanger ending suggests that we are in for one hell of a ride as we follow Lazarus into the land of the Dead. The Dead is published by Hodder and is scheduled to be released on 1st July. Whilst you are waiting for this date to arrive you could do a lot worse than to check out Mr Gatward's website where you can see the fantastically gruesome book covers for the first three books in the series.


  1. I quite like the sound of this one. Thank you for the review!

  2. Wow. This sounds amazing! Thanks for the review!

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