I admit it, I was skeptical. Then again, I thought that Twilight was fun, despite being badly written. Lots of things are entertaining without actually being good. So, I thought I’d give Esmont’s Elements of the Undead a shot. At least, it would be a diversion from daily life.
I underestimated it.
In all really satisfying science fiction or fantasy stories, paranormal archetypes (in this case, zombies) are symbols for bits or themes of culture or humanity about which we do not know how to discuss. The outlandishness of the apparent subject gives the audience permission to safely talk about troubling social issues. If the conversation gets too hot, someone can crack a joke about vampires or zombies or changelings or Big Brother. Everyone can save face and retreat into the social order they distrust. It is always about today, always about now, when the genre is correctly executed. If it is done badly, it is never more than an idle pastime and an object of ridicule. Done well, however, it can subvert existing power structures. It can become a cultural touchstone.
The popularity of superheros, paranormal heroes and villains, and artificial intelligence named “Hal” (or cars which park themselves and talk back to the drivers when they ask for a certain radio station) is not a fluke. It is a lightening rod for social psycho-analysis.
At the end of Fire, the narrator uses Megan’s point of view to say, “The undead were only a symptom, she had finally realized, a symptom of a broken society that would rather battle each other to the death than compromise for the greater good.” (Page 184.) Elements of the Undead is a commentary about what we have become, with our social media, hyper-violent entertainment, and bloated governments. We turn on ourselves, and devour senselessly, without meaning and without stopping.
If your taste doesn’t run towards the metaphoric, the series more than satisfies with quick pacing, lots of action, and just the right amount of detail. Esmont skillfully develops characters (even those who don’t live long) who mean something to us, and about whom we care. He weaves us around various geographical locations, introducing us to groups of survivors, and different manners of survival, some of which are as bad as the zombies themselves. Esmont does not sacrifice story for pacing, however, and while it is a violent novel, it is not unnecessarily gruesome. The real violence happens between people – and leads us to the book’s self-description: “tales of survival.”
By the end of Earth, book three, we still do not have a clear notion of what survival is or what death is, since very few things stay dead for long in this world. Elements of the Undead presents possibilities for what it might mean to be dead, or what it might mean to be alive, and thus offers a searing perspective on our treatment of each other in this, our zombie-free world.
It is a relevant tale in this age of online relationships and decreasing face time.
Lastly, the formatting and artwork of the book are beautiful. They add to the grittiness of the story, giving it the appearance of an old telegram with blood smears and crinkles. The e-version is good, but the paperback is lovely.
Also by William Esmont:
The Patriot Paradox (The Reluctant Hero, Book One)
Pressed (The Reluctant Hero, Book Two)
Red Adept Editing: http://www.redadeptpublishing.com/editing-services offers editing services to elf-published authors, in addition to being a small press.
Streetlight Graphics is ww.streetlightgraphics.com, another small business offering graphics arts services to idenpendent authors.
This review first appeared on irevuo.com, Friday Reads.
(reviewed 5 months after purchase)