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Thursday, August 10, 2023

Throwback Thursday – Reign of the Dead by Len Barnhart

note: I wrote this review ten years ago and still love Barnhart's books. Sadly the fourth part of the series that I mention looking forward to never came out. I've also never had the chance to find out what happened as Barnhart sort of disappeared from the internet. I had met the man years ago at a convention and had stayed in touch. Len if you are out there email me and let me know how it is going. Now on to the review. 

When Jim Workman returns from his isolated cabin after a three-week vacation everything has gone to hell. A mysterious virus has caused the dead to rise and begin snacking on the living. Quickly Jim meets up with a group of survivors and falls into the daily routine of trying to survive in a world that has gone mad. There he also meets up with a woman that he falls in love with, and meets a scientist named Susan who claims she may be able to figure out a cure for the virus. That is with the right equipment and time, which they don’t have. 

At the same time that Jim is meeting up with the survivors a reverend by the name of Peterson is trying to make sense of a world seemingly abandoned by God. When he is eventually forced to flee his refuge in the church it strikes him that God must be punishing them all. Of course that is everyone but him, so after finding a group of followers he can manipulate he starts his crusade to start society over the way that God would want it to be. Eventually the two groups clash and many bad things happen. Most of them are zombie related. Who lives and who dies? Is there a cure to be had? Will the crazy reverend get what is coming to him? Read the book and find out damn it!

Every time I pick up a zombie themed book or pop in a zombie movie I’m looking for another experience like I had the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead. Most of the time I’m disappointed. In the case of most of the books the author has tried to tinker with the undead, or make some large supernatural force behind the outbreak. I guess that is okay for some, but those stories don’t interest me. What I find interesting about zombie stories (movies or books) are the sorts of things that Romero dealt with in his movies. The survivors and how they interact with each other is what drives the narrative. I think the reason that I enjoyed this book so much is that Barnhart spends his time focusing on the survivors. The early part of the book is split into sections and explains how each of the main characters has survived to the point that they all meet up. By the time they all are together their interactions make sense and their motivations are understandable. 

So the main characters are well developed. Why does that make for a good piece of zombie fiction? Well let me explain. First of all the tension and actual fear for the characters comes not from the zombies themselves, but the readers fear for these characters. The same can be said for why I found myself smiling when the good reverend gets what is coming to him in the end of the book. Second this is a zombie story, so Barnhart is going to have to kill off a lot of minor characters. It isn’t possible for him to establish all of these characters with back-stories, so what he does is show their deaths thru the eyes of the characters we are invested in. We may not care that X dies, but we will care how it affects say Jim or Susan. 

This is a great book that will grab the reader and keep them interested until the very end. The characters are well developed and realistic, which makes what happens to many of them so disturbing. This is the first book in the series of four, and this is also the third time that I’ve read it. I’ve wanted to reread this one and the second before I dive into the third book of the series (which I just got my hands on). As an added bonus this is a copy of the new version of Barnhart’s book that he polished up to make it fit better with the new stuff he is writing. So this makes an excellent time to jump into the series. This is hands down one of the best bits of zombie fiction that I’ve ever had the chance to read and can’t recommend it enough.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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