Note: This review first appeared on my Goodreads page.
Zombies. Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no getting away from them at the minute, especially with World War Z shuffling into cinemas soon. So after softening myself with David Wong’s not-really-a-zombie-story-honest-guv This Book Is Full Of Spiders, I thought I’d fling myself into Tim Lebbon’s hell-yeah-we’re-talking-zombies-baby Coldbrook.
This was my first Lebbon novel and, on this evidence, it won’t be my last. What we have here is a surprisingly quick read, for all of its 632 page length, courtesy of a seasoned and prolific writer who, by this stage, most definitely knows his way around a horror novel. You get the impression this is a story Lebbon has been looking forward to writing for a while, which, of course, is A Good Thing. What we also have is Lebbon’s attempt to trump the body count of not only every zombie book on the bookshelves, but perhaps every single book ever written combined! If you want to play Top Trumps with horror novels, this one has the “Body count” category sewn up, and in a very clever way too.
You see, in true Outer Limits style, it’s all the fault of them bloody scientists. No sooner do they rip a portal into the multiverse and connect to another Earth than a withered old zombie wanders in and takes lumps out of people. The infection it carries takes hold fast and soon most of the scientists in the Coldbrook complex are gadding about looking to bite people. When one of the engineers escapes the complex it doesn’t take long for one of the zombies to follow and thus the outbreak truly begins.
Lebbon doesn’t hang about. This all happens in the first 100 pages. The novel follows a number of story threads as it charts the downfall of mankind: Jonah, an ageing Welsh physician spearheading operations following the owner’s suicide, and his struggle to cleanse the complex of infection while being haunted by a mysterious figure calling itself The Inquisitor; Holly, a scientist that escapes through the portal to seek refuge on the other Earth, only to find it not quite as beautiful as it once seemed; Vic, the engineer that escapes Coldbrook to be with his family and thus dooming the planet to zombie domination; and Jayne, a young woman suffering a rare muscle disease that also grants her resistance to the infection.
No one character dominates the story, but neither are any of the main characters short-changed. The action comes thick and fast with at least somebody in dire straits at any one time. It all keeps the pages turning at a fair old pace. Lebbon’s account of mankind’s rapid deterioration is impressive and scary, but is leavened by the spirit of the survivors.
The book is not without its flaws. Apart from a few forgivable typos the exchanges between characters can sometimes seem a bit too chummy, especially between those who have only just met in strange and incredibly stressful circumstances. It doesn’t distract too much from the story, though. What did drive me batty, however, was the sheer number of hanging…
I mean it happens every other…
And not just for one character, either, it’s every one of…
Once you notice it, it starts to get on your…
You get the idea. Don’t play drinking games based on hanging sentences while reading this novel as you’ll be shitfaced by the end of part one. In truth it’s only another minor niggle and it shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the story.
To wrap this review up, in the end I liked Coldbrook. It was certainly worth a read. It didn’t blow my mind, but then that’s not what we’re here for. Fans of the inevitable zombie apocalypse will be well serviced by the novel, and I’m sure that fans of Lebbon’s work won’t be disappointed either. Kudos also to Hammer Books (via Arrow Books, itself via Random House… sigh) for getting this meaty book onto the shelves at the relatively cheap RRP of £6.99, when one would have assumed the page count would have edged it closer to £8.99.
And finally… I’ll post a few reviews here while I plough through the second draft of The Floors. I’ll have a status update and more news on that whole thing shortly. When I’m not slaving over a hot keyboard, ploughing through a book, or (heaven forbid) at work, you’ll often find me haunting Goodreads. Do mosey on round to my place, why doncha: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6543771.Lucian_Poll