For a genre populated by the dead, zombie lit is alive and well. It’s been this way since 2003 with the release of Brian Keene’s seminal horror novel, THE RISING. With the success of the first season of THE WALKING DEAD last year, its obvious that the genre isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. No one knows the genre like Jonathan Maberry who seems to have quite a relationship with our undead counterparts. Whether as a global threat in the first of his mainstream Joe Ledger thrillers or as the antagonists of the YA ROT & RUIN series, he has shown how versatile they can be. Despite his various, and always exciting, explorations into the world of the undead, he has yet to deliver a traditional, Romero-esque zombie tale. Until now.
DEAD OF NIGHT is Maberry’s love letter to the zombie genre. Reading like the literary equivalent of Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it follows the citizens of a small Pennsylvania town as they struggle to survive against an army of the dead. What at first glance may appear to be standard fare soon evolves into its own, introducing elements that aren’t so familiar.
One of the things that really sets it apart from others of its kind is Maberry’s approach to the undead. In his vision, the consciousness of the deceased lives on inside the reanimated body, but can only watch in idle horror as his or her body committs heinous acts of murder and cannibalism. To let my guard down a bit, that prospect is terrifying to me. It calls to mind degenerative diseases, or images of hell. Maberry captures it well, but it’s not pretty. Each scene where this is portrayed is a hard read, even for a seasoned horror fan like me.
Another point that makes it stand out is that it features a more lucid “lead zombie” in the character of serial killer Homer Gibbon. While this has been done before, Maberry offers a satisfying explanation as to why he is different from the other zombies. Gibbon is a wicked character that is bound to stay in readers’ imaginations for a very long time.
Maberry has a lot to offer as a writer, but where he shines the most is his creation of realistic, mulit-faceted, and likeable characters. Dez, the protagonist, is a mean, redneck bitch, but she possesses a strong sense of duty and has a troubling backstory that makes the reader understand her emotional makeup. Providing a contrast to her ultra-conservative views and often mean disposition are her former lover, journalist Billy Trout, and Dez’s partner JT. When each of their storylines collide in the third act, the novel picks up an extra layer of complexity. The last few scenes where they’re trapped in a school surrounded by zombies and the military, trying to survive and protect the children, are sure to get the adrenaline pumping. They also give the impression that the piece carries with it a message about unity and working together, instead of against each other, in the face of a crisis. In Maberry’s worldview, he separates himself from some of the more cynical practitioners of the zombie tale, and implies that we can actually do it.
DEAD OF NIGHT is a damn fun read. It’s got zombies, guns, and a shit-ton of heart. To use an old cliche, I couldn’t put it down, especially the last 75 pages or so when I absolutely HAD to know how it would end. Jonathan Maberry scores again.
DEAD OF NIGHT is in stores October 25th.