REVIEW: Empire’s End by: David Dunwoody
You got to feel sorry for the Reaper. He’s quit his job, become newly human(ish), and has to wander a post-apocalyptic America searching for Lily, the little girl he saved from the wreckage of Jefferson Harbor. He also has to deal with two adversaries, both bent on his destruction; Eviscerato, the “King of the Dead” and his merry band of undead circus freaks, and The Omega, a being possessed with the souls of everyone the Reaper has sent to Hell, and every one of them are seriously pissed….
Before I begin, I have something I need to get off my chest.
As an aficionado of all things Zombie (books, movies, Rob), one thing tends to stick in my craw more than anything else. Sometimes, there is a distressing lack of originality in zombie-related items. An unknown virus/sickness/malady strikes down a portion of the population, which in turn rises up to devour whoever is left. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a tried and true formula admittedly, but sometimes, I want something a little more original, or maybe a different spin on the same old same old.
Enter David Dunwoody and his book EMPIRE. It was a unique spin on your typical zombie tale. Instead of focusing on the zombies as they rise and take over, the book is set a hundred or so years after the zombies have ran roughshod over the country. It was part apocalyptic survival story, part spiritual treatise, and a really good read. Well, with all good things comes the inevitable sequel, EMPIRE’S END. Will the sequel stand up to the standards the original set?
In a word, hell yes! (Ok, that was two words, but still…)
In my opinion (humble as it may or may not be), in EMPIRE’S END, Dunwoody has re-written the rulebook on how to craft a sequel. Where EMPIRE seemed fractured in places, END has a more streamlined narrative. Its fast, gets right to the point, and keeps you riveted. It doesn’t rehash the events of the first book (although reading EMPIRE first is recommended). Dunwoody’s ruined America is put on a much bigger stage, and depicted very realistically. To draw a comparison, if EMPIRE is, say, “Mad Max”, END is definitely “The Road Warrior”.
The Reaper, who has given himself the name “Adam”, is a unique protagonist, not to mention a total badass. His only goal, other than killing the undead, is to get back to Lily, who along with Voorhees the cop (the two survivors from EMPIRE) has taken up refuge in Gaylen, a walled community up in the Great Lakes. Lily has been adopted by a seemingly nice couple, while Voorhees becomes part of the town’s law enforcement. As this is a zombie novel first and foremost, you know the peace and serenity cannot last.
Which brings me to another one of END’s strong suits. The Omega, an undead super-zombie possessed with the souls of everyone the reaper ever sent to hell (which made an appearance at the end of EMPIRE) by itself would have been a suitably kickass bad guy, but Dunwoody doesn’t stop there. He also tosses in the fabled “King of the Dead” named Eviscerato (I love that name!) who commands a troupe of undead circus freaks, and who also has the ability to control the undead. These are two wonderfully evil and loathsome bad guys. Toss in a vile crime boss type within the city and you have an unholy triumvirate of bad guys that keep the pages turning.
The human characters are strong and realistic, and they act the way real humans would. The dialogue is crisp and simple. The action, of which there is a LOT, is brutal and delightfully constant. There really isn’t a lot of time to catch your breath, which is something I loved.
Usually, at this point, I talk about things in the story that didn’t quite work for me, or fell flat in its delivery, but oddly, there isn’t anything I can really talk about without getting nitpicky. I really enjoyed the hell out of it, but I can understand that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In my humbly and criminally overlooked opinion, END is an overall superior novel to EMPIRE, and should put David Dunwoody on the list of great zombie authors. Read this book.
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