Review: Empire by David Dunwoody


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.

11 Thoughts to “Review: Empire by David Dunwoody”

  1. Thanks for an excellent review! I know what you mean about suspension of disbelief becoming unsuspended. It’s interesting how it can work for totally off-the-wall novels like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but cannot work in more plausable plots.

    1. That’s the thing. I guess zombies to me simply are not plausible. I didn’t realize that going in, though.

  2. I hate it when the “fourth wall” crashes in and reminds me that the story isn’t real. That’s a term I ran into when I dabbled in theater; They’re trying for the illusion that one of the walls of a room has lifted, and you’re peeking into the characters’ lives. When that wall comes down, the audience remembers that they’re watching a play. With luck, that only happens when the curtain closes and the lights come back on. {SMILE}

    Oh, I’m not fond of zombies either, with the possible exception of the ones in Linnea Sinclair’s Down Home Zombie Blues. However, those aren’t undead zombies; they’re biomechanical critters that just happen to be called “zombies” by the folks who fight them. {amused smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. That’s exactly what it was. My brain kept going, “You know, this isn’t real. This couldn’t really happen.” It was no fault of Dunwoody’s writing, though, just my inability to believe in zombies period.

      I could deal with zombies that are biomechanical. 🙂

      I’ve since explored a few articles about real zombies in Haiti, and I could deal with those, too. I’d like to see someone tackle them.

      1. Yes, that’s a classic case of the fourth wall making itself felt. {SMILE}

        Yes, biomechanical zombies were easier to get my mind around. So are Haitian zombies, tho I don’t like how they’re made. {lop-side smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

        1. No, I don’t like how they’re made either. I did read about one whose master died and the zombie drugs eventually wore off (after years), so the zombie was able to recall who he was and reunite with his family.

          1. Tia Nevitt

            The book that Deborah reviewed a while back — Deadtown by Nancy Holzner — had fairly plausible zombies. They were plague-based and weren’t shambling, brainless menaces. Still, even though I knew I could give it a fairly positive review, I knew I wasn’t the ideal reviewer, so I sent it to Deb.

            This actually looked pretty interesting to me, but I think I would have ultimately had the same problem.

            1. For me it was the undead part I couldn’t deal with. Empire’s zombies are also plague-based, but they do die before becoming zombies. So they’re shambling around and rotting away, although they have the capacity to regenerate tissue if they’re fed well enough. They can even regain a certain level of brain activity/thought process. But they’re dead (undead).

              And yet, as I said above, I have no problem with vampires, which are also undead. Weird, huh?

          2. Wow. That reunion sounds like quite a story. Any suggestions where to look it up? I’d like to hear more. {SMILE}

            Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

            1. Anne, here you go. I hope this whole link comes through and works.


              1. Thanks. That’s a neat article. {SMILE}

                Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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