By Toby Venables
Viking Dead is a dark fantasy novel by Toby Venables, part of the "Tomb of the Dead" collection published by Abaddon Books.
Bjolf, son of Earling is the captain and leader of the Viking raiding ship "Raven" who after reluctantly fleeing from a raid gone wrong find themselves sailing into very strange waters, steeped in a perpetual mist and populated by the living dead - known in the Viking legends as the Draugr (one who walks after death).
To escape from this hell spawned land Bjolf must lead his men against the undead horde and strike at the foul master behind the unnatural army.
Vikings and Zombies, not the usual mix and I don't think i've ever seen those two combined, it's what piqued my interest enough to review the novel and I really wasn't disappointed. What immediately grips you as you read this book is the way the author has managed to convey a strong historical feeling to the prose, the book reads just how you would imagine a real viking raiding party would behave and everything feels accurate and has a distinct level of grim reality. This has the advantage of heightening the zombie side of the story so much that you share the fear, revulsion and disgust against this undead plague.
The action scenes are very well described and while sufficiently gory are not as frequent as you might expect, the book relies more on the underlying menace and description of viking life. The characters on the other hand are very much like you would expect from a bunch of vikings, warriors to the core with an almost fearless frame of mind where only the fittest survive - get too fat or lazy and it will most likely result in your death. The raiding party is a very well organised and close knit band and this is used to great effect with the cleverly choreographed fights.
The story itself is told from a number of different viewpoints - using the device of showing the raiders from an outsiders viewpoint for a large part of the book which allows the reader to learn as the outsider does. This all weaves together to become a fast moving, energetic and rewarding tale. I love the fact that the Zombie are an unknown element (very different from the modern zombie story) - though rooted in Norse mythology and the underplayed world-building and minimal backstory (except for a couple of flashbacks) mean that the pace remains pretty swift. The ending is quite unexpected (or at least was for me) but it does nonetheless work well and I have no hesitation in recommending this novel.
Written on 12th April 2011 by Ant .