Mists of the Dead, by Travis Adkins, takes the tradition of high adventure and adds a liberal helping of modern day zombie horror to bring something to the page that is both familiar and yet fascinatingly unique.
We are introduced to Warrel, a roguish charmer of a bard who has it made being the house balladeer in a tavern run by man of questionable means. Still, Warrel yearns for a life of adventure. His chance for something more occurs when Kogliastro, the most famous wizard in the world, decides to leave his fortress behind and venture out into the wide world once again. With a bit of finesse, Warrel is able to convince the magic user of his potential usefulness as a scribe on his journeys, and thus begins a saga that will take the old mage and young, impetuous bard (along with their dwarf warrior companion) to a strange new land filled with both mystery and the eponymous mist.
Being someone who grew up on Dungeons and Dragons, this tale has much that was familiar to me, from the magical items and spells the character’s use and discover, to the chosen professions of not only the three adventurers but others they meet in their travels. The world the author has created is filled with gods and monsters of his own creation as well as those taken from the pages of the manuals I devoured as a fanatical fantasy gamer in my youth. Adkins puts his own spin on the mix, in particular related to the gods of Erda, the world in which Warrel lives, and how his characters communicate. Warrel in particular uses an entertaining mix of the classic ‘ye olde’ common tongue and modern vernacular that put a smile on my face at is creativity.
While the story can be easily classified as traditional fantasy, Adkins does not forget his own history, which includes at least two traditional modern-day zombie apocalypse novels. The zombies our adventurers meet don’t share the traits of magically enchanted undead, raised up by dark priests and necromancers, but adhere in many ways to the zombies we are familiar with these days-those who die within the mists rise up and are compelled to devour the brains of the living.
Naturally, given my own life-long fascination with both fantasy adventure and the undead, I am probably a biased reviewer of this tale, but I must say that the characters are solidly fleshed out, as is the world(s) the author has created. If perhaps there is an area I would be critical of, it is the length of time it takes for Warrel to go from committing to leaving his home behind to travel with a famed wizard and actually doing it. While the detail the author commits to Allswell, the city that Warrel calls home, and the cast of characters he has relationships with is tremendous, it perhaps takes a bit too long for the real adventure to begin. With that said, for me, Mists of the Dead was both an exciting journey into the unknown and to places I am very familiar with and love returning too.
Mists of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XC5Q794
Life After: The Void carries the story of Jeff Grey and company forward about three months after the events of the first book, where the dead rose and he and several other people attending a high school band competition managed to turn the high school they were at into a barricaded fortress while the world outside goes to war with the undead.
Jeff remains bitter after the loss of his girlfriend and is dealing with a somewhat awkward burgeoning relationship with another friend, Mel, despite many awkward misgivings and some fairly contentious interactions. Jeff, along with his National Guardsman friend Anderson, and older survivor Rich are the leaders in their reasonably stable new community. They have provisions and routines to keep them safe, though the tension in the group is palpable. The undead, for the most part, have become background noise, slaughtered when they get close but thought of more in theory than reality. Except when, occasionally they overwhelm the survivor’s reality and become more of an immediate danger.
It is the humans outside that are the real threat, as they have always been and ever will be. Jeff has been grasping the fact that nothing will ever return to normal despite the seeming static routines of his new existence. This is compounded by the guilt and rage he feels at the loss of his brother and girlfriend, while his parents are a thousand miles away. The group makes their way outside the barricades they have built and have to deal with the living in a variety of ways, coping with marauders, the military, and rescue missions. Throughout these experiences, we see the world through Jeff’s eyes, though we know what those around him think of him. Jeff is a self-admitted asshole, bitter and more often than not itching to get in a fight, or at least a debate, or how best to survive and to live. The events he has to face and the tragic experiences he has had to cope with wage a constant war with his ability to keep it together. He is a trusted and relied upon member of his group, but at the same time he seems to have a contentious relationship with just about everyone who crosses his path. A teenager still, he is reluctantly being forced into the role of leader and does so often like a bull in a china shop.
My understanding is that there were a few short stories that the author wrote that take place between the first book of this series and this novel. I am sure they would have added to the depth of the story, but having not read them didn’t make me feel as though I was lost in any way when I started this book. This is definitely a sequel though, with the expectation that the reader already knows the main characters introduced in Life After: The Arising.
The action is a bit more tempered in this second entry of what I am guessing will be (at least) a trilogy, since the urgency of immediate survival in the hours and days that followed the first onslaught of the undead has subsided. The characters have settled into life where they still have electric power and plenty of supplies, but of course are trapped in both a world and a barricaded fortress that is somewhat claustrophobic. There are bursts of action in the book but much of the first half deals with the human dynamics of a group of people forced to unify and create a new existence with rules and routines that everyone can live with. The author focuses a good deal on the interpersonal relationships between Jeff and pretty much everyone else. His awkwardness with the children, annoyance with other leaders, and anger with just about anyone who confronts him are front and center. The action picks up as the story progresses, but Jeff’s battles with those around him as well as his inner demons continue throughout, especially when he is forced to confront some very hard truths about himself and his place in this new world.
Jeff is a hard character to like in many ways. He was in the first book and remains true to the personality the author created there in this book. Abrupt, gruff, itching for an argument, and perceived as a know it all, it takes more than being forced to take a leadership role in a desperate survival scenario to force him to grow up and come to grips with his failings. It is the life he must live, interacting with others in regular, routine daily activities versus coping with swinging a sword and blowing a zombie’s head off that are slowly chipping away at his desire to be contentious with just about everyone. Much like with the first book, I believe that whether the reader enjoys this tale will likely hinge on what they think of Jeff and appreciate the path he is on-whether it be to redemption or ruin. It is certainly an interesting path, regardless.
Life After: The Void can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Life-After-Void-Bryan-Way-ebook/dp/B01LX8ZPSQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1486918475&sr=8-2&keywords=bryan+way