Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: Valley of the Dead

Kim Paffenroth, 2010. Permuted Press

For seventeen years of his life, the exact whereabouts of the medieval Italian poet Dante Aligheri have remained unknown to modern scholars. What is known is that during this time he travelled as an exile across Europe, workling on his epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Now, however, the full truth can be revealed: that during his travels, Dante stumbled across an infestation of the living dead. The unspeakable acts he witnessed became the basis of the horrors described in the most famous volume of The Divine Comedy; Inferno, a description of Hell itself...

As with many things in life, while there's often great satisfaction to be gleaned from reading 'more of the same' in zombie fiction - the dead rise, mismatched survivors get thrown together, etc - I find the experience of reading a zombie novel that successfully breaks new ground to be one of life's greatest pleasures. For like-minded zombie obsessives, Kim Paffenroth's Valley of the Dead is definitely worth picking up.

While the tale clearly falls into the sub-sub-category of historical/zombie mash-up, it's certainly one of the better examples I've seen, with Paffenroth describing a  fictional journey from which passages in The Inferno have purportedly been derived. The structure of the novel cunningly recalls the structure of genuine medieval text, with our protagonists continually wandering from one set piece to another, each 'scene' exposing them to new characters and situations which end up prompting deep philosophical discussion on all manner of topics. It's in presenting these discussions that Paffenroth really shines, as those who have read the author's previous work (Dying to Live and its sequel, and the non-fiction tome Gospel of the Living Dead) will doubtless anticipate, and it must be said that the classic structure of Valley of the Dead allows Paffenroth to make the very most of his predilection.

Valley of the Dead may admittedly not be a novel suited to the tastes of all zombie fans. For those who can appreciate something a little different, however - something that requires a little more thought on the part of the reader - then Valley of the Dead is definitely worth investing your time in.

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