Saturday 17 April 2010

Review: Plague of the Dead by Z.A. Recht

The end begins with a viral outbreak unlike anything mankind has ever encountered before. The infected are subject to delirium, fever, a dramatic increase in violent behavior, and a one-hundred percent mortality rate. Death. But it doesn't end there. The victims return from death to walk the earth. When a massive military operation fails to contain the plague of the living dead it escalates into a global pandemic. In one fell swoop, the necessities of life become much more basic. Gone are petty everyday concerns. Gone are the amenities of civilized life. Yet a single law of nature remains: Live, or die. Kill, or be killed. On one side of the world, a battle-hardened General surveys the remnants of his command: a young medic, a veteran photographer, a brash Private, and dozens of refugees, all are his responsibility-all thousands of miles from home. Back in the United States, an Army Colonel discovers the darker side of Morningstar virus and begins to collaborate with a well-known journalist to leak the information to the public...The Morningstar Saga has begun.

From time to time I also review books that will appeal to older boys who are ready to read something of a more adult nature and Plague of the Dead is certainly one of these books. This is one of the best zombie books I have read in years - imagine the likes of Romero's zombie films, or the 28 Days/28 Months Later films, translated onto paper and this is what you would get.

Plague of the Dead was first released in the US several years ago, and is now going to be released in the UK by Pocket Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) on 13th May 2010. During the years since its release it has gained quite a following and is now recognised as being up there amongst the best books in the zombie genre. The artwork for this new release is perfect for this kind of book - green is such a great colour for horror book covers, and the combination of the deaying skull and biohazard symbol work perfectly to deliver an immediate impact; you know pretty well what to expect before you even open the book.

The story focuses on the Morningstar virus, a deadly new disease that, in the tradition of the great zombie movies turns anyone who contracts it into a human flesh-hungry zombie. These creatures are christened 'sprinters' in the story - they still have full control over their limbs and balance and are able to move at a considerable pace. However, if these creatures are killed they are then reanimated by the virus to become the more traditional slow-moving, porrly co-ordinated zombie, referred to as a 'shambler'. Both can be put down permanently by a shot to the brain or removing the head, but one bite from either of these and consider yourself infected! Having two different types of zombies brings a new element to the traditional mythology and the author uses this well to create different types of peril for the story's heroes.

In order to fully enjoy this book you have to be able to suspend your disbelief considerably as otherwise you will end up questioning many of the significant decisions made by the main characters. For example, the virus starts in Africa and the majority of non-African nations decide that the way to prevent the spread is to quarantine the whole continent. Thus, in order to stop the virus reaching the Middle East a final blockade is constructed at Suez, yet for some reason this defence of this blockade is left mainly to ground troops with little of the shock and awe air strikes that we have become used to seeing in modern warfare. This was just one of the scenes where I had to quash the niggling questions that were burrowing their way to the front of my mind. But hell, this book is about zombies, so suspension of disbelief was always going to be essential.

Character development is also lacking in places, to the point of being non-existant for some of the characters. This means that when some of these characters contract the virus and are then killed we do not really feel any remorse as we haven't really go to know them well enough. However, this weakness in their development also seems to transfer over to other characters all also don't seem to respond to these deaths in the way we would normally expect, and their feelings of loss are barely touched on. Yes, this is an event of apocalyptic proportions and some people harden themselves under extreme circumstances and bottle their emotions, but surely not as much as we see at times in this story.

If you like zombie stories then you will enjoy this book. The zombies are particularly nasty and unrelenting - I love one scene where they pursue a lone truck driver from Cairo all the way to Suez, just because he is fresh meat. Their singlemindedness in their 'quest' for himan flesh is what really makes this story for me. Plague of the Dead is the first in what was a planned trilogy, with the second Morningstar Strain book entitled Thunder and Ashes. Tragically, Mr Recht died suddenly at the end of 2009 although there are rumours that the third book is completed and his family plan to have it published at some point in the future. My thanks go to the generous people at Simon and Schuster who sent me a copy of this book to review.   

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