« Shatter / Michael Robotham | Main | Urban Gothic / Brian Keene »

Valley of the Dead / Kim Paffenroth

Cargo Cult Press / August 2009
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand

Even before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies became all the rage, author/editor Kim Paffenroth (Gospel of the Living Dead, History Is Dead) was making his own study of a literary masterpiece under a warped lens. But rather than have zombies stumble into the tearoom of a Jane Austen novel, he marched them directly into the path of Dante, famed poet and architect of Hell. The result: Valley of the Dead.

The fact that I’ve read more about Inferno, the volume of Dante’s The Divine Comedy focused on Hell, than the work itself did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of Paffenroth’s novel. Each chapter begins with the lines of the poem that tie in to it, which allowed me to get the connections Paffenroth is making without having Dante’s text by my side. I’m sure familiarity with Inferno would make this an even richer and more satisfying read, but don’t let unfamiliarity put you off – Paffenroth’s work is just as accessible as a straight-ahead horror story as it is a literary companion piece.

The story goes that Dante, wandering in exile from his homeland, was inspired by the terrible conditions of plague and famine he encountered to create his famous vision of Hell. In Paffenroth’s vision, the plague is one of the living dead, maurading through villages and slaughtering their inhabitants. It’s Dante’s encounters with these creatures, as well as the army of men cutting down anything – and anyone – in their path to contain them, that fuel his ideas of cannibalism, death and despair.

In quick fashion, Paffenroth teams Dante up with a disparate (and desperate) group of co-adventurers – a repentant soldier, a tough-as-nails pregnant woman, and a monk from a mysterious, ancient order. Together, they travel through the dangerous countryside, seeking safe passage from the thick of the infestation. The book quickly settles into a kind of macabre road trip, one with plenty of action, a fair dollop of gore, and some really strong character work.

Paffenroth’s writing career, which began with the Bram Stoker-winning Gospel of the Living Dead, has been firmly centered in the world of the undead for quite some time now. Much like Brian Keene, he’s been able to build a solid reputation for taking the once-thought-dead zombie subgenre and infusing it with, for lack of a better term, new life. With Valley, he brings that fresh perspective not only to zombies, but to a literary classic as well. Valley of the Dead is that rare work that can appeal to fans of splatter and classic literature at the same time. If it ever lands a mainstream release, it’s going to be a tough shelving decision for some bookstores.

Purchase Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth.

Posted on Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 01:33PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend