By David Dunwoody (website)
Gallery Books
Trade paperback, $15.00

Reviewed by Raven


The year is 2112.

The crippled U.S. government and its military forces are giving up the century-long fight against an undead plague. Born of an otherworldly energy fused with a deadly virus, the ravaging hordes of zombified humans and animals have no natural enemies. But they do have one supernatural enemy: Death himself.

Descending upon the ghost town of Jefferson Harbor, Louisiana, the Grim Reaper embarks on a bloody campaign to put down the legions that have defied his touch for so long. He will find allies in the city’s last survivors, and a nemesis in a man who wants to harness the force driving the zombies—a man who seeks to rebuild America into an empire of the dead.

Empire was a super-quick read. I breezed through it in two days. It’s sort of a debut; it was David Dunwoody’s first novel, although this is the second edition. The hook for me was Death fighting zombies. His doing that makes sense, right? They’re defying him by being undead, and of course he finds it a tad annoying.

The story is a lot more complicated than just Death fighting zombies, though. There are human survivors fighting zombies and a human villain creating and controlling zombies. I wouldn’t even say Death is the main character, although he’s a major character. It’s basically a sprawling story that takes in all aspects of the zombie war in Jefferson Harbor. We even get to look through the eyes of some of the zombies.

If you like zombie novels, like gore, don’t mind explicit near-rape (I had to skim that scene), and are a fan of cinematic writing, you should like Empire. What do I mean by cinematic writing? Dunwoody’s style moves the story along fast, but he concentrates mainly on plot. There’s not a lot of room for character development, especially of minor players. Most of the human characters spend the book running away from zombies most of the time, and most of the zombie characters spend it running after dinner (humans) most of the time. It was like watching a zombie movie: the majority of it is about fighting zombies. Also, the cast of characters was so huge I couldn’t keep them all straight, especially since some of them had similar names.

I did manage to keep the plot threads straight, although I wouldn’t have minded more clarification of the human villain’s ultimate aims, which stayed nebulous. Of all the plot threads, I’d say I was most invested in three of the storylines, one of them being Death’s. Another one I enjoyed was about a cop who’s just trying to hold things together as well as he can. Given the number of zombies running around, it’s not well.

I’m guessing most people reading this book are looking for a fun romp with zombies, and they’ll probably find it here. Dunwoody’s pretty good at tackling all aspects of zombie-ism, including the impact on religion, although when he touches on that, he never makes a firm statement for or against the different characters’ beliefs. Various powers, animate and inanimate, seem to be hovering around, but it’s not clear who or what they are. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with his treatment of religion. I would have preferred to know what statement he was making.

My biggest problem, though? I concluded I’m not a fan of zombies. That’s no reflection on Empire. It’s purely personal. This novel was my first foray into the world of zombies (unless you count Shaun of the Dead), and my disbelief kept coming unsuspended. For some reason I can deal with vampires, who are also undead, but the idea of scores of zombies shambling around doesn’t seem to work for me. I didn’t put this book down, but I probably won’t read another zombie novel. But if you’re a fan of zombies and you’re looking for the fun romp I mentioned above, you might want to give Empire a shot.

Empire will be available on May 16th.