Posted on April 23, 2010 by Eric Pollarine
Available at Amazon.com
When the water levels rise, so do the hungry dead.
This is the premise for Simon Bestwick’s outing for Abaddon Books zombie apocalypse themed, “Tomes of the Dead” series entitled Tide of Souls. The Story Surrounds a polish ex prostitute that has been trained by her father in special forces hand to hand combat, a recently called back to duty British squad commander whose a born leader but who has a dark secret in his past, and a marine biologist that might just have all the answers as to why the dead and the water levels around the earth have risen and taken over, so long as they can keep him upright and off the bottle.
Let me say this, “Tide of Souls” is possibly the best book that Abaddon books has published to date. Now, admittedly, there are some outings by the independent publishing company that I have yet to read, but if their “PAX BRITTANIA” line of books is any indication as to the quality of their other titles, well- sorry, I’ll have to pass. However, on a whim, I decided to invest in this book and have quite happily found that this is not the case here, and I won’t dwell on the steampunk inspired drivel of the other line, with it’s less than acceptable writing and poorly executed mix of Batman and Dickens, no-and neither should you. “Tomes of the Dead” is a zombie fiction line, and Tide of Souls is a fantastic read.
Mr. Bestwick offers us a surprisingly fresh, no pun intended, look at the zombie sub genre, with enough gore and violence to keep fans of the more grotesque happy and content as well as prose, character, plotting and emotional investment that is at once both literary and accessible. New readers to the subgenre of zombie/survival horror, will no doubt be fans of said subgenre’s more acceptable approach to violence and gore and also might not really want to take into consideration that every story doesn’t have to have the three main predictable plot devices that have now come to be both the gold standard and mile long shortcoming of the movement; which is comprised of, Guns Gore and the Getaway- of which, all are in use in Tide of Souls (in their proper and respective places), but are never used to overtly berate the readers sense of intelligence.
A nice addition to Mr. Bestwick’s writing is that you can absolutely tell that he is not just someone who reads exclusively in the subgenre or maybe not even the greater body of Horror/Suspense in general. No, the man is clearly literate and passionate about the written word, and uses a voice that has the best of both Matheson and Hemingway.
From three main characters we derive one singular story, told from the vantage points of very dissimilar faces, we gain a common voice and thread throughout the book. There are a few spots that seem a bit unpolished, the female lead character of Katja, a young Polish English teacher who’s been kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, though it’s not her back story that’s the stretch, no far from it. It’s the fact that she has been trained by her ex Special Forces father and has yet to do anything about her situation until the dead begin to rise. Mr. Bestwick explains it through the characters internal and external dialogue, and does a good job of allowing Katja to come to terms with her motives to stay captured by the sex ring operators. Which shows a depth of understanding in relation to the characters natural development, but Bestwick’s prose and voice really comes into its own when the book switches from Katja to Sergeant Robert McTarn. The author’s writing shines throughout the majority of the second portion of the book.
McTarn is a believable, caring, likable and completely self realized character. You get the sense that the author spent the majority of his time developing the story around the 30something Sergeant and his situation as the events of the apocalypse develop and only later used the three character narration to attempt to add something more to what would have been a fantastic story in its own right.
Rounding out the cast of characters is Dr Ben Stiles, an ex marine biologist who has been dealing with the knowledge of the coming plague of undead for years, afflicted with a permanent disability due to a diving mishap, he serves as a sympathetic and emotional plot necessity. Whose information seems to be hurried into the losing chapters of the book, though adequately explained, there still seems to be something missing.
I am however willing to take and explain away the shortcomings of the piece of work for its overall composition, because the book reads in a fast and enjoyable manner, has a cast of lead and supporting characters that allow you to become immersed in an undead world and at a reasonable price as well as being published in a great format, I would have to say that everything about Tide of Souls equals out to be a winner.
So go get your copy and make sure, that if you plan to go near the water anytime soon, double check where you wade in.
Review by Eric Pollarine