This book is part of Abaddon Books’s excellent “Tomes of The Dead” collection of zombie novels. This collection contains some of the most original and innovative zombie fiction I’ve ever read and “Viking Dead” is no exception to this. It is also the only zombie story I’ve ever read which also includes vikings. Or rather it’s a story about vikings with lots of zombies in it. Needless to say, it is best read whilst listening to heavy metal (then again, I tend to listen to heavy metal when I read most novels…)
In short, the story follows a young boy called Atli who joins a group of vikings who arrive at his village shortly after it has been ransacked. Initially, the story is more of a standard kind of viking adventure story as the vikings travel around in their longship, trying to avoid their enemies and plan their next raid. However, things gradually start to go in a much more macabre direction…..
The really interesting thing about this novel is that, although it’s certainly as gruesome as any good zombie novel should be, it doesn’t always quite feel like a zombie novel. It might just be the fact that it’s set in 10th century Scandinavia rather than the present day, but it seemed more like a historical fantasy novel than a horror novel. This is probably due to the fact that the zombies are are presented as being supernatural in origin rather than the result of a zombie virus or anything like that.
This isn’t a bad thing though, since it makes the story seem a lot more like an adventure/thriller/fantasy novel in many ways – which is kind of a refreshing change from the more depressing and nihilistic atmosphere of many zombie stories. Not to mention that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read too. Plus, obviously, the vikings are only armed with swords etc… and there isn’t even a gun in sight. So, when they battle the undead – they actually battle the undead, rather than just shooting at them from a distance. I don’t know, this just adds a lot more action and suspense to the story.
But, saying all of this, there are some genuinely disturbing parts of the novel which contain a certain kind of grim innovation which every good zombie novel should include. For example: one of the most notable things in the story is that not just humans can become undead. This is certainly nothing unusual in zombie-related things ever since “Resident Evil” introduced zombie dogs to the world in 1996. However, “Viking Dead” takes this a step further and even includes zombie ants. Yes, you heard me correctly, zombie ants.
Although this novel is narrated from a third-person perspective, it is presented entirely from the perspective of the vikings and everything in the novel is filtered through their particular perceptions of the world. This is done in a fairly subtle way and it really helps to immerse the reader in the world of the novel and it works a lot better than a more “neutral” kind of third-person narration would have done.
One example of this are the zombies themseleves, who are referred to as “draugr” throughout the story. According to Wikipedia, this is an old Norse word for ghosts/the undead and it just sounds really dramatic too (so dramatic in fact, that I even ended up using it as the title for the first episode of my “CRIT” comic series).
I’d really love to talk about the ending to “Viking Dead” in this review, but there’s really no way to do it without including major plot spoilers. All I’ll say is that you’ll probably end up re-reading the ending a couple of times out of sheer astonishment (and I can only think of about two or three other novels where I’ve ended up doing this).
All in all, it’s a really good novel and a very innovative take on the whole zombie genre too. If I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d probably give it a five.