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Your Brother’s Blood by David Towsey

Thomas is thirty-two. He comes from the small town of Barkley. He has a wife there, Sarah, and a child, Mary; good solid names from the Good Book. And he is on his way home from the war, where he has been serving as a conscripted soldier.

Thomas is also dead – he is one of the Walkin’.

And Barkley does not suffer the wicked to live.

I often hear the cry “Oh no, not another zombie novel”. Now I’ll be the first to admit that there has been a glut of books over the last couple of years featuring everyone’s favourite un-dead shufflers, but if you take a look around The Eloquent Page you’ll notice a lot of them are actually pretty damn good. I’ve read everything from historical zombie fiction (The Viking Dead), to novels that are something more akin to a ghost story (Handling The Undead).  All the zombie fiction that I’ve read has one thing in common, each new story attempts to add its own fresh perspective. Your Brother’s Blood, the debut novel from David Towsey, attempts to do exactly that and manages to pull it off with aplomb. Turning the zombie mythology we’re all familiar with and standing it squarely on its head.

Set hundreds of years after some unknown near-apocalyptic event, society has regressed technologically to something comparable with the American Old West. Small communities, like Barkley, eke out a meagre existence and are barely getting by. Elsewhere, large armies are caught in a never-ending conflict that bares a startling similarity to the US Civil war.

Newly deceased Thomas awakes on the battlefield. He’s torn between his desire to reconnect with his family, to protect them, and the urge to just disappear. He knows however that if he returns to Barkley, his wife and daughter will suffer. At its core Your Brother’s Blood is really a story about family and the lengths that people will go to in order to protect that.

A lot of the horror comes from that revelatory moment when you realise that it is the living that are the real monsters not the dead. Humanities reaction to the dead is driven by hundreds of years of religious indoctrination. Communities like Barkley are gripped by a crazed fervour and deal with the situation in suitably knee jerk manner. Towsey establishes this quickly, within thirty pages you’re left in no doubt how the Walkin’ are treated.

The local religious leader in Barkley, Pastor Gray, is all fire and brimstone. He uses his position of authority to preach the gospel and control the local populace in every way. To him, the Walkin’ are proof of man’s failures. They are damned souls forced to walk the Earth as punishment for their sins. Gray preaches the only way to avoid the same fate is to follow his pronouncements to the letter. Fear of the Walkin’ is the perfect excuse for Gray to control the masses.  It’s no real surprise that atrocities occur in the name of the Good Book.

The Walkin themselves are more to be pitied than feared. These aren’t your classic brain hungry George Romero-esque ghouls. These are beings that were once human, they remember themselves and the lives they had before. They have had to forego their previous existence and try and find some sort of peace.

I’d imagine there are some, your zombie purists, who this book won’t appeal to. This novel isn’t all blood, guts and gore, there is actually very little of that. Your Brother’s Blood is a far more cerebral affair. This is a character driven piece that explores the nature of the (in)human condition.

Like the recent TV show, The Returned, the reasons for the existence of the Walkin’ is a bit of mystery. There are a few subtle suggestions about how and why they are the way they are, but for the most part this question is left unanswered. I enjoy this kind of ambiguity in a horror novel. It leaves plenty of potential to discover more about the Walkin’ in any future sequel.

Within the first couple of chapters of this book I was enthralled by the writing, this debut is utterly engrossing. It’s a truly fascinating reinterpretation of the zombie mythos. Excuse the pun, but this novel breathes new life into the genre. Towsey has created a hauntingly evocative tale that takes an introspective look at the zombie menace. I want to read a sequel to this book tomorrow. No, let me rephrase that, I NEED to read a sequel to this book tomorrow. I suspect I’ll just have to attempt to be patient (sadly, never a strong point of mine :)).

Your Brother’s Blood is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available from 29th August 2013.

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