How do you like your undead? Do you like them fast or slow? A little smarter than common or dumb as a door knob? Most people aren’t biased towards a side as long as it’s a good story but it’s always a fun topic of conversation. Personally I have never really leaned too far towards a side but lately that has changed a bit as I have become interested in the idea that mixes both types of undead. A style that has the fresh undead retaining a small degree of human smarts and movement that quickly degrades into the shambling moaners. I like this style in that it gives you some variety within a book and it helps answer how the undead are capable of overrunning large populations so fast. Besides, a dusty old shambler whose been wandering around in a hallway tripping over trashcans shouldn’t have the same bio-mechanics as the newly reborn.
The reason I bring this up is because these are the types of Zombies found in The Gathering Dead, so right away I was intrigued and looking forward to seeing how author Stephen Knight would use them.
The Gathering Dead is nonstop action military thriller featuring a squad on a rescue mission in New York. Hearing that many will immediately compare it to Craig DiLouie’s post-apocalyptic thriller Tooth and Nail since both have military units in New York City as an outbreak happens. This is understandable but the fact is New York City is the ideal setting for an outbreak and we certainly haven’t seen the last story set there. With that in mind it’s important to point out that both books have their own tales along with the initial similarities so I think it’s inaccurate to judge them against each other since never once did I feel like I was reading the same book.
The Gathering Dead runs at a neck breaking pace over the span of just a few days, and Stephen Knight shines best at visually projecting the story to the reader giving you a front row seat to the action . As I was sitting there reading this I was able to see everything the book intended me to see with absolutely no trouble whatsoever being fully immersed. From swarms of undead raining out of windows going after humans to masses crushing themselves trying to make it up stairwells the action is brought to you vividly.
Moving from one chapter to another I felt like the book improved as it progressed constantly building pressure filled tension since we are constantly reminded that in the background of the entire story are masses of undead that will never stop reaching for the living.
With such a strong military theme to the story I was pleasantly surprised to see depth and personality with the imperfect military personnel. Not everyone was a cold Rambo, as emotions ran high within the unit. I cared when some died throughout the story. No character favorites of the author were protected, as each and every character you see is up for grabs for the undead while as they are making their way to their rescue point. Anything can happen to anyone.
Not everyone in this book is military, which gives you a bit of a breather while helping the common civilian identify with the survivors. We quickly find the military team protecting a few scientists, and a man named Earl who is protecting his family, who at times show more steady resolve than the Special Forces. The book gains credibility here, as, thankfully, he is just a strong man and you won’t find yourself rolling your eyes since he never suddenly turns into a small arms expert.
What I didn’t like about The Gather Dead was I felt like there was far too much foreshadowing in the first half of the book and I felt like it gave away a few surprises early on. That is by no means to say that the book was predictable, far from it, it’s just odd that such strong foreshadowing was used. I think I was so frustrated with this aspect since a few paragraphs and a dozen or so sentences take care of this problem rather easily. This also ties into my note that I felt like this book got stronger as it went on since this problem never showed itself again.
The Gathering Dead should be assigned reading for everyone who loves a good zombie tale and I predict a late blooming surge in popularity at some point.
Following The Gathering Dead Stephen Knight also wrote a 100 page Novella Left with the Dead that follows a member of the rescue team who was left behind. Be sure to check out Knight’s blog, which offers some nice insights into the world of self-publication.
The gathering dead is published by Severed Press.