Writer of Horror Fiction

Review of Mark Justice and David T. Wilbank’s “Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road”

I have not read what I understand to be a novella that started the Dead Earth Series, entitled “Dead Earth: The Green Dawn”, but the authors did a commendable job bringing me up to speed with what happened in the first story through much of this novel, without any need for a prologue.  What that translates to for someone who does forgo the first book is an immediate jump into the action with a story filled with zombies controlled by an alien invasion force dubbed “Necros” (short for Necromancers), by the few surviving humans who remain.
There are two groups of survivors at the outset of this tale.  One group is made up of bikers running free and trying to avoid getting eaten while roaming around the Mexican desert in Baja California.  Lead by Luther Kemp, there is friction between him and another member of this ragtag gang, whose nickname is Mother…and he is one big Mother, that is for sure.  Mother only wants company because there is safety in numbers, while Kemp has bigger plans.  The other group is led by a former sheriff’s deputy from New Mexico named Jubal Slate.  Jubal is bound and determined to make his way up to Area 51 in Nevada, where the aliens apparently broke through into our dimension, started changing the atmosphere, and raising the dead to help in the take over of humanity.
It seems that those who have survived have some immunity from turning into zombies-they can be bit and survive, though if allowed to die, they too turn in the end.  It is an interesting slant, and allows for a few gruesome scenes where I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Not long into the story, Luther Kemp is bequeathed a gift from one of the Necros, who fly in glider-type machines, as his band of renegades is surrounded by a zombie horde.  A metallic band that adheres to his head, giving him power over the undead and the ability to read the minds of the living, as long as he follows the commands of these New Lords over the Dead Earth.  That is about the time that Mother realizes that he wants nothing to do with Luther or his little band of devotees, as Kemp decides that he is pretty tickled to serve his new alien masters, as long as he is given power over both the dead and the living humans.
The two groups clash throughout the rest of the story, with both sides making the trek north from Mexico up to Nevada.  There is plenty of gory zombie action and interesting variations on that due to the alien influence on the story.  The near future time frame add little hints about the earth technology left behind, and we get a big dose of it from one of the secondary characters, who has the ability to tap into the ever diminishing world wide web through a chip implanted in his head.  I enjoyed the pacing of the story-it was a fun and easy read.  My criticisms of it are mostly tied to whether or not this book is the final chapter in this saga or not.  My belief is that based on a very revealing chapter near the end, when a lot of divulged about the aliens and their plans for earth, that this series will continue.  Also, without providing a spoiler, I felt that one character’s departure from the story was rather anticlimactic and my guess is that they will return in a future installment.  If, however, this is where it all ends, I would be disappointed that there isn’t more to be revealed.  My guess is that isn’t the case, though the authors certainly hit a dramatic stopping point which would allow them to leave things as is if that is the route they choose to go.
I felt that the three main characters in this story were all fairly well developed.  Jubal taking the fight to aliens and undead was a refreshing change from what we typically see-there is rarely a main target to focus on during the zombie apocalypse, so seeing someone willing to do whatever it takes to undo the undead and the enemies of man was enjoyable to see-he was on his own personal Jihad.  I liked the morphing Luther Kemp, as the necro technology he is gifted with starts changing and empowering him in twisted and devious ways.  He goes from being a run of the mill sociopath to someone with an almost religious zeal and devotion to his new masters that is frightening.  And my favorite character is Mother, the scarred, imperfect, reluctant hero that goes through hell and comes out of it looking for vengeance.  He was the most developed and complex of the three, and also the most human of the bunch.
I do look forward to seeing where the Dead Earth series goes, and hope to hear about the promise of another installment from the authors somewhere in the not so distant future.

Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Earth-Vengeance-Mark-Justice/dp/1934861561/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291266382&sr=1-1

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