Book Review by Ian Shone
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper Voyager; Original edition (May 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062048759
- ISBN-13: 978-0062048752
By The Blood of Heroes by Joseph Nassise is available from:
‘It’s Inglorious Basterds meets Dawn of the Dead,’ according to the title summary from Harper Voyager. Whether or not that is a good thing is very much open to interpretation. It is at least honest, and combined with the suitably lurid cover, it certainly lets the reader know what they are in for.
The merits (or lack thereof) of this title depend heavily on the reader’s love (or lack thereof) for the time-honoured tropes of pulpy horror and war films, whether or not they have been done to death. A general reverence for George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy has soared in the last couple of decades, and so has a general pillaging of his ideas. Between the revolutionary 28 Days Later and the creatively barren Walking Dead, there doesn’t seem to be very much ground left to be broken.
The idea of a Great War-era Germany using zombies as both cannon fodder and super soldiers is quite an appealing one, and there’s plenty of potential here to make fans of zombie fiction smile. Nassise avoids using the dreaded Z-word for the most part, instead referring to them as ‘shamblers’, but otherwise his creatures are very much of the classic Romero type. Before long he also introduces the more modern, fast-moving zombies, which seem to be becoming almost obligatory since 28 Days Later. The period is well chosen—the Second World War would be perhaps too obvious, and it’s natural enough to link the living dead with the real life horrors depicted by Wilfred Owen and Otto Dix. By The Blood of Heroes’ strength is certainly in its willingness to engage with its historical setting.
But unfortunately the novel seems to run out of steam once it gets past its own premise, and there’s a pervasive feeling of laziness about it. Chunks of exposition are dumped on the reader from the second page onwards, and ideas are rushed into with a haste that robs them of any power they might have had. It’s perfectly reasonable for Manfred von Richthofen to appear in a novel set in this period, but as early as page 16? His appearance (like that of the super zombies) would have been so much more effective later on, and there is a growing feeling of anticlimax as the novel progresses.
The characters are so thin as to be almost invisible. Protagonist Burke is the square-jawed ‘Chesterfield man’, Freeman is the flying ace, Graves is essentially Lovecraft’s Herbert West. The basic plot is a typical behind-enemy-lines-rescue retread of the sort exemplified by Saving Private Ryan. Add to this some glaring logical errors (how could gas reanimate corpses if they are unable to breathe?) and some truly awful lines (‘An army of the ravenous dead didn’t care about nationalism; all they wanted was their next meal’), and the reading of this book soon becomes a chore.
It’s a shame, because there is a lot of potential for good, silly fun in all this, and there are some good ideas among the dull action scenes and clunky dialogue. There is a nice scene in which a prisoner of war is punished for a minor transgression by being roasted and served up at a banquet with an apple in his mouth. If this were a video game or even a television series, then many of the above criticisms would not be applicable, but ultimately By The Blood of Heroes does not quite work as a novel.