I must admit that given the prevalence of zombie literature out there I can get a bit fed up with the whole walking dead thing. Whether, as Coleridge put it, ‘they groaned, they stirred, they all uprose…’ they’d better do so in a manner of story that isn’t boring, and leaves me wanting to provide them with a cranial drill, a drinking-straw and simply let them have at my frontal cortex.
In a way Tim Waggoner’s Dark War, starring ‘self-willed’ zombie Matt Richter, is something of a tonic for folks like me. It’s tongue-in-cheek enough to overlook the otherwise single-eyebrow raising moments, fresh enough to revitalise areas that might be seen as clich├ęd, and Waggoner’s writing is strong enough to drag you from one scene to the next without dishevelment. That it’s also far from being a ‘zombie book’ is also relief indeed.
In a style befitting the latest Hollywood blockbuster, and not just a world of horror-laced noir in which this novel often may appear to belong, the opening to Dark War sees Richter and cohorts of his security group/business Midnight Watch on a behind-enemy-lines type mission in Nekropolis. Only the setting seems rather familiar to be behind enemy lines, as do the enemies they’re pursuing; are they really enemies?
Things are moving at a rapid pace indeed for our zombie friend, and for those not familiar with the characters and events from earlier books, Waggoner makes time and gives worthy introductions to such. This is all done without seriously breaking the rhythm of his prose, which is great for fans reading this latest book, or newbies who’re just dipping their toes into the water of Richter’s world.
Just pages in and you’re swamped with some serious action. Battles scenes galore, baddies of all variety, and some very quirky tech in the world of Nekropolis. Cue then a quick change of direction and wrap up of a mission, as Richter’s partner, half-vampire Devona, has her own crisis emerge. Yes, you heard it – zombie and vampire hook-up. Too awesome for words right, but does it work? Actually, it’s really well handled.
And that’s one of the things with this book that’s cool. There’s a solid balance of decent plot, interesting character shenanigans, plot craziness and action. Classic literature, mythology, ideas old and new are twisted and reshaped to fit the imaginings of Waggoner. Much like Richter’s body really – he has bits fall off of him – and would have a serious full-time problem were it not for spells to keep him pieced together.
Such touches work to really good effect; there’s the obvious humour to them, but there’s also reflection of a more serious nature, especially when you’re acquainted with the characters involved. As with many such reads, it can be the small ideas – from Victor Baron and his flesh-tech, to my favourite, the ‘Agony DeLite’ vehicle – that really do help cement the bigger story blocks into place.
Dark War deals, as the titles may suggest, with the outbreak of some pretty serious hostilities between factions of the constructed world of Nekropolis. Yet it’s not all heavy duty bangs and bombs (though there is a healthy amount of that stuff going on too). It’s a mix of mystery, shock-thriller blended and fused with a little bit of, well, dare I say everything. Including, that is, comedy.
With Dark War Waggoner knows when to make us laugh, to reflect, and when to have us hold on to something that’s screwed town so he can take us for an action-packed, rough-ride. The characters are interesting, from Devona, to her uber vampire lord and father Galm, Varney (yes, you read that right dedicated dread literature fans, Varney the Vampire) and onward. The world of Nekropolis too is certainly not unoriginal, its pentagram construct and sectors under rule of different Darklords, overseen by ultimate ruler Father Dis.
This is a rich serving of entertainment pie, one that does what it sets out to do; it also keeps your interests piqued for more down the line. There are plenty of series out there that deal with similar melting pot of sub-genre characters and topics, but from my experience they get boring fast as their creator’s often fail to keep pace with the richness of their creations.
There’s no such worry here. Dark War is definitely worth a read for the fan of horror, supernatural and weird fiction, and is certainly a blend of all three. With the slightest dash of Wodehouse too, at times. And that’s never a bad thing.