I’m a big fan of George Romero’s zombie flicks, so a book with the title King of All the Dead instantly got my attention, and the words “Attacked by the reanimated dead wherever they go” on the blurb made it an easy sell.
The first thing I should say about King of All the Dead is that it’s not attempting to imitate Romero’s work, as countless movies have done. It’s not even an “end of the world” story, with a handful of humans battling an ever-increasing zombie population. This story is concerned with one woman: Lisa.
Walking through the woods on a sunny afternoon with her sister Alison, Lisa comes across a bizarre sight: a Transit van, parked among the trees off the main track, with the lights on and the engine purring – and a hosepipe connected to the exhaust, feeding to the window. No sooner has Lisa saved the driver – a man called Ben – from committing suicide than a mysterious whirlwind-like force breaks into the clearing and kills Alison. Lisa manages to escape by taking charge of the van. Ben is in the passenger seat, semi-conscious, so Lisa makes a quick decision to head for the hospital, struggling to understand what’s happening to her. Before the end of the story she will have done a lot more running than that, because the occasional deceased hospital patient is not quite so dead as you’d expect.
King of All the Dead is a short and snappy novella. The story moves along relentlessly without a single pause for a break in events or a single chapter division. All this is good, as it helps to pull the reader into the panic experienced by the characters. On the downside, however, I felt very little empathy with them. Compared with the rich character development you come to expect with, say, a Stephen King novel, the characters in King of All the Dead didn’t really come to life.
I thought the logic of the story was badly flawed in places. Alison and Ben travel to various locations in the course of story, and each time the same zombies show up and attempt to grab them. How the zombies manage to travel so quickly across miles of countryside is never explained, other than they were transported by supernatural means. But even that begs the question of why a force as powerful as that needs to rely on a bunch of shambling corpses to finish Lisa and Ben off. The most ridiculous moment was a flock of zombie seagulls swooping down for the kill. How a dead bird as enough aerodynamics to fly, when a dead human has trouble walking, is beyond me.
Towards the end of the story, the authors attempt something which is almost impossible to pull off convincingly – they take us to the afterlife, or rather, their version of what the afterlife might be like, which is all anyone can do. I admire them for being ambitious, but their version of the afterlife didn’t give me the slightest feeling of wonderment.
Normally I wouldn’t have to comment on issues pertaining to the publisher, but I’m going to make an exception, in light of a glaringly obvious typesetting error: every hyphen and dash throughout the entire book is missing. I spotted the problem within half an hour of reading, due to the glaringly obvious wide gaps in the text. It’s sheer negligence on the publisher’s part that this book went to print in this state.