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on 1 May 2011
Itt is 976 AD. Bjolf and his motley crew are having a run of bad luck. They've had wind of a cushy, easily-raidable village on the back end of beyond. But when they show up, axes sharpened and ready to raid, Bjolf's men discover that a rival band of vikings have already looted it. Worse yet, the rival band (bigger, meaner and better equipped) are still in the area. Bjolf rapidly goes from predator to prey - forced to return to his ship at a very un-Viking-like run.

The Hrafn, Bjolf's ship, loses her pursuers at sea - helped by a convenient (if terrifying) fog. The Vikings wash up in a strange and spooky land. The natives live huddled behind an enormous wooden stockade - the reason for which becomes apparent when the first zombies stagger out of the forest.

Just to be clear, The Viking Dead is about Vikings... fighting zombies.

And, just to be completely clear, it is awesome.

First, Vikings. In The Viking Dead, Vikings are enormous, wise-cracking soldiers that combine masculine chutzpah with martial prowess. They're kind to women, paternal to young boys and operate by a complex code of honor that John Wayne would envy. Sure, they raid, but our good Vikings do so in a largely bloodless fashion - terrifying the farmfolk into handing over their goods. A spot of plunder is lovely in the morning, but there's no reason to be a dick about it. Vikings also never leave a man behind and occasionally rescue kittens from trees. In a bit of hyper-geographical fun, Mr. Venables also populates the crew of the Hrafn with a global grab-bag of Vikings. Byzantine Vikings, British Vikings, Finnish Vikings, Icelandic Vikings... even a lady-Viking and little-boy-Viking that tag along... all wrapped in their own particular stereotype and armed with a distinctive martial knack.

Second, the Dead. Toby Venables has the sort of perverse imagination that makes me glad he's not in my gaming group. Primarily, he serves up the bog-standard, slow-moving, hit-them-in-the-brain zombie-zombie. However, that's not all that's on the menu. The Viking Dead also has, well, Viking undead - a pack of super-sized mega-zombie berserkers armed with a vicious melange of cutting/bashing/pulverizing instruments. And, perhaps the best of all, Mr. Venables invents an entire zombie ecosystem. Imagine, if zombies make zombies by devouring them, what happens to your bog-standard carrion-devouring wildlife? Zombie crows are horrific, but the zombie ants take the cake.

Third, Vikings fighting the Dead. If you're not expecting 352 pages of bloody rumble, you're reading the wrong book. The Viking Dead is about as subtle as either of its namesakes. There's a bit of a distraction at the beginning, as Vikings fight Vikings. But this is really a warm-up...

Fourth, it actually works as a story. Mr. Venables' lunatic, anachronistic Vikings are a genuinely entertaining bunch of savages. They're not the brightest group of zombie-chopping raiders, but they endeared themselves to me with their manly-man acceptance of their insanely bad luck. The Viking Dead does a sketchy (but successful) job of outlining their evolution as heroes. Bjolf starts as a selfish raider, becomes a mercenary anti-hero and eventually finds himself as a knightly (if slightly-barbaric) crusader. None of it feels forced. Granted, the circumstances of The Viking Dead are wildly goofy to start with, but Bjolf's hearty belief in his Viking "code" leads him neatly down the path from outcast raider to altruistic savior.

Fifth, The Viking Dead has bonus depth (if you're looking for it). Not to say that this latest Tomes of the Dead entry is going to crowd King Lear out of the curriculum anywhere, but The Viking Dead does have a nice little Western-esque theme. Vikings raid - they don't produce. They're an utterly selfish part of the human ecosystem. Atli, a young village boy, craves the excitement and freedom of the Viking lifestyle. Bjolf, legendary raider, secretly wants the reverse - he constantly, wistfully banters with his best friend about retiring and having a farm. Although Atli never learns of Bjolf's dreams, he does come to acknowledge and respect his own background at Bjolf's insistence.

This connection between people (true men) and land (a true man's pastime) is flagged up repeatedly through The Viking Dead. The zombie plague is awful because it summons hordes of the brain-eating undead, but it is worse because it corrupts the land. The dead, the zombie ants, the scary trees - the very ground itself is poisoned. Bjolf warms to his role as anti-zombie messiah because it gives him a chance to protect the land for the first time in his life. This is Bjolf's opportunity to, if not produce, at least aid the means of production. This message deepens with the revelation of the zombie plague's origin. Without spoiling the mystery, it is noteworthy that a lack of respect for the land is at its core.

Still, The Viking Dead really is what it is - Vikings and zombies, gleefully bashing away at one another in a variety of strange and oddly enjoyable ways. There's no question that this book should be ridiculously awful. And, although it is ridiculous, it couldn't be further from awful. It is a testament to Mr. Venables' skill as a storyteller that The Viking Dead is pure, unadulterated, ludicrous fun - the distilled essence of pulp entertainment. Also, Vikings. (And zombies.)
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Northern Europe, 976 AD. Bjolf and the viking crew of the ship Hrafn flee up an unknown river after a bitter battle, only to find themselves in a bleak land of pestilence. The dead don't lie down, but become draugr - the undead - returning to feed on the flesh of their kin. Terrible stories are told of a dark castle in a hidden fjord, and of black ships that come raiding with invincible draugr berserkers. And no sooner has Bjolf resolved to leave, than the black ships appear.

Now stranded, his men cursed by the contagion of walking death, Bjolf has once choice: fight his way through a forest teeming with zombies, invade the castle and find the secret of the horrific condition - or submit to an eternity of shambling, soulless undeath!

Mrs Cheesecake can confirm that I have a slight obsession with the idea of zombies, the concept freaks me out, yet I find myself regularly drawn to reading about them. Over the last couple of years, I have read a fair number of zombie related novels but somehow, and I'm not quite sure how, I managed to totally miss the Tomes of the Dead series by Abaddon Books.

With the exception of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, the majority of zombie novels that I've read have had a modern day or futuristic setting, so a story set during the Dark Ages was a refreshing change of scenery. The most noticeable thing about this alternate setting is the absence of modern solutions to the situations that the characters find themselves in. No guns or grenades are used to dispatch the undead, instead we have arrows, axes and fire.

The Vikings themselves are a rough and ready bunch. Their leader, Bjolf, is a man of wild contrasts - thoughtful and calm one moment but ready to behead an opponent in the next. Living with the ever-present threat of violence has made him quite edgy. He feels like the Viking equivalent of a coiled spring. I also enjoyed the fact that the reader gets glimpses of the camaraderie that the crew share with each other. There is a constant back and forth banter that works well.

There are several interludes scattered throughout the novel, which help fill in some of the backstory of Skalla, the evil leader of the black ships. Rather than just a bog standard two-dimensional villain you actually get some insight into his reasons for unleashing the undead plague.

Straight out of the gate, there is a palpable sense of impending doom that I always look for in a good zombie tale. Things start slowly but you just know it is only going to be a matter of time before everything goes to hell.

Eventually, more through luck than judgment, the Vikings find themselves among a group of villagers who have been living with the undead threat for years. From this point on the novel really picks up pace, and hurtles toward an explosive climax that I have to be honest and admit - I didn't see this one coming.

I've checked Abaddon's website and there are quite a number of novels in the Tomes of the Dead series already available. The books seem to mostly be standalone affairs so, should you choose to, it will be nice and easy to dip your toes in these zombie infested waters. I certainly enjoyed the action packed hack and slash of Viking Dead so I'll be investing in more. The only question remains is how to convince Toby Venables to write a sequel?
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on 9 February 2012
This book is the perfect blend of vikings, battle and zombies. Anyone who enjoys a good battle or two, or maybe three and can handle graphic descriptions and can sit comfortably as they read about man-eating zombies, man-eating zombie ravens, man-eating zombie wolves, man-eating zombie ants and oh did I forgot to mention a collection of man-eating decapitated zombie heads in a pit?? Well - yes this is the book for them!
It starts of well with a beautiful portrayal of the idilic viking farmers life and of course the boy who dreams of escaping it all and the only way of doing that is joining a crew and taking to the whale road.
However his wish doesn't come quite as he planned - first when he unexpectedly encounters one raiding party, another has already brutally murdered 99.9% of his village, his cowardly father who is exteremly suprstitious about dead people survives although everyone determines he's gone quite mad. Left with nothing to loot the later arrived warriors depart after being chased off by their brutal rivals, the Grimmsons, discover the young lad has stowed away with them.
What follows is a fog cursed race across the sea to escape the rivals only to end up quite lost at sea, have a strange encounter with a drowned sailor's arm (think of the hand from the Adams family but on a boat) and end of up in a land where death comes in the form of friend and foe alike, and more, as hinted at the start.
The nature of a vikings life fits well the characters as they struggle to understand what is going on in the strange land they find themselves beached at as well as survive with the few remaining locals. Eventually the warriors pull themselves together and vow to avenge all their fallen comrades in an endless battle through the zombie filled landscape to the source of the curse in a quest to stop it once and for all - even it if means death for themselves.
Everything up until that very point when victory is in their hands and the presumed culprit is lying maimed on the floor is brilliant - what isn't so good is the unconventional and uncomfortable way Toby Venables introduces a small 'sci-fi people from the future' aspect to the plot in order to explain why people have suddenly started rising from their graves to feast on the living. It is that which will urk some true historical viking fans who will quite happily believe vikings vs zombies but not vikings vs scientists from the future and a time machine they then use only to visit the future which is more zombie filled then they current past erm I mean present, well whatever era the story is set in.
But on the whole it is a very entertaining and sea gripping read, chapters are short, sweet and well packed with action and the characters have great depth to make the reader will them to survive against every zombie surge (although I must admitt the character of Atli tended to get forgotten towards the end but the leader of the crew Bjolf remains prominent all the way through.)
Definitely a worthy buy for those who like horror but with a bit of an unusual twist to the typical werewolves and vampires.
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on 6 January 2012
Let's make this clear - I love Viking stories. But I insist on a bit of quality control - not just Vikings for the sake of Vikings. 'Viking Dead' didn't disappoint. Great Vikings and a good rattling adventure with the bonus - Zombies!!! What could be better. Don't miss out on a great pulpy fun book.
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on 8 January 2015
A viking v zombie book so no guns,bombs or tanks to kill the zombies,not a bad read join blood and his crew as they fight all manners of zombies,the writer has done good research and even as the Vikings get killed of one by one you still want them to win and a good twist at the end
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on 1 February 2014
a well researched and exciting book. a very absorbing insight into these marauders with a good twist at the end, leaving - hopefully - room for a sequel.
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