Viking Dead by Toby Venables
Northern Europe, 976 AD. Bjolf and the viking crew of the ship Hrafn flee up an unknown river after a bitter battle, only to find themselves in a bleak land of pestilence. The dead don’t lie down, but become draugr – the undead – returning to feed on the flesh of their kin. Terrible stories are told of a dark castle in a hidden fjord, and of black ships that come raiding with invincible draugr berserkers. And no sooner has Bjolf resolved to leave, than the black ships appear.
Now stranded, his men cursed by the contagion of walking death, Bjolf has once choice: fight his way through a forest teeming with zombies, invade the castle and find the secret of the horrific condition – or submit to an eternity of shambling, soulless undeath!
Mrs Cheesecake can confirm that I have a slight obsession with the idea of zombies, the concept freaks me out, yet I find myself regularly drawn to reading about them. Over the last couple of years, I have read a fair number of zombie related novels but somehow, and I’m not quite sure how, I managed to totally miss the Tomes of the Dead series by Abaddon Books.
With the exception of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, the majority of zombie novels that I’ve read have had a modern day or futuristic setting, so a story set during the Dark Ages was a refreshing change of scenery. The most noticeable thing about this alternate setting is the absence of modern solutions to the situations that the characters find themselves in. No guns or grenades are used to dispatch the undead, instead we have arrows, axes and fire.
The Vikings themselves are a rough and ready bunch. Their leader, Bjolf, is a man of wild contrasts – thoughtful and calm one moment but ready to behead an opponent in the next. Living with the ever-present threat of violence has made him quite edgy. He feels like the Viking equivalent of a coiled spring. I also enjoyed the fact that the reader gets glimpses of the camaraderie that the crew share with each other. There is a constant back and forth banter that works well.
There are several interludes scattered throughout the novel, which help fill in some of the backstory of Skalla, the evil leader of the black ships. Rather than just a bog standard two-dimensional villain you actually get some insight into his reasons for unleashing the undead plague.
Straight out of the gate, there is a palpable sense of impending doom that I always look for in a good zombie tale. Things start slowly but you just know it is only going to be a matter of time before everything goes to hell.
Eventually, more through luck than judgment, the Vikings find themselves among a group of villagers who have been living with the undead threat for years. From this point on the novel really picks up pace, and hurtles toward an explosive climax that I have to be honest and admit – I didn’t see this one coming.
I’ve checked Abaddon’s website and there are quite a number of novels in the Tomes of the Dead series already available. The books seem to mostly be standalone affairs so, should you choose to, it will be nice and easy to dip your toes in these zombie infested waters. I certainly enjoyed the action packed hack and slash of Viking Dead so I’ll be investing in more. The only question remains is how to convince Toby Venables to write a sequel?