Captain Nate Leathers of the U.S. Army is in Iraq on a routine patrol in a small town outside of Basra when his Humvee convoy gets ambushed by insurgents. As the only survivor, he is taken prisoner and dumped in an underground dungeon by the insurgents. Not long after that, there are explosions and other chaos from up above, and a strange green mist starts floating through his prison cell. Concerned that it’s a chemical weapon, he tries to avoid it, but after a while comes to accept that it seems to have no effect on him. He manages to escape the abandoned dungeon and makes it to the streets of Basra, where he discovers that it seems as if the dead are walking and there are very few people still left alive. Hiding and escaping on foot from trouble with an Iraqi named Muhammad, he discovers there are far worse creatures than zombies roaming the streets-creatures that seem to have crawled (and flown) up from the depths of hell. But even with all of that, the real trouble starts for Leathers when he comes across a group of survivors who create even more of a hell on earth for him.
Archeron starts out strong as a tale told in first person. The author does a solid job of explaining military terminology and other aspects of life in the field without going overboard with it. He also does a good job of keeping the reader in the dark as to what is happening outside of the narrow perspective of the main character early on. This gives a sense of claustrophobia which increases the story’s intensity level a few notches for the first third of the book. Even as Leathers makes his escape from the insurgent’s dungeon, the mystery surrounding the green mist and the strange, zombie-like creatures that bewilder him at first kept the story moving at a rapid, entertaining clip. He starts to get his bearings and discovers there are more than just zombies involved in this strange new world he is a part of, which makes the story even more interesting. I liked it when Muhammad, the Iraqi who saves Leathers early in the story, does his best to explain that the shambling figures out on the street are indeed zombies, despite a language barrier. I thought he put the message across in a very creative way. I do regret that Muhammad didn’t play a bigger role in this tale. I would have liked to see more of him.
I enjoyed the fact that this story does take place in Iraq, which is not the typical locale for a zombie story. But as I read through this book, I realized that this is not a zombie story, but a story of demons and ancient mythology. The author has a strong knowledge of how the military operates and the ancient mythology he chooses to develop his horror creations. The action moves at a steady clip early on and in the latter stages of the book, with quite a bit of time in the middle dealing with interpersonal conflicts and the characters pondering what is actually happening.
Unfortunately, I did have a couple of issues with the story that took away from my enjoyment of it.
The first is what I will call ‘asides’ that distract from the main tale. These take place when, for example, the main character spends a chapter discussing the benefits of wearing your combat boots while you sleep, or when the main character starts contemplating the meaning of life-an example of this is when Captain Leathers states that one man’s religion does not make him any more or less moral than another man. These asides bog down the story for me, slowing the tempo and detracting, rather than adding to the texture and complexity of the tale.
My second issue was with Leathers himself. He struck me as a contradictory character. One the one hand, he is a combat vet and an officer who has the guts and confidence to make life and death decisions every day. On the other hand, he fails to take aggressive stance that would diffuse a dangerous situation again and again. I won’t elaborate on this further to avoid revealing spoilers. I will say that I do like a character that is human in their failings, and make mistakes, but the mistakes Leathers makes seemed redundant to me.
While I had some issues with this book, I think the author is a talented writer who has come up with a very interesting universe inhabited by not only zombies, but mysterious netherworld creatures. I will be curious to see what happens in the inevitable sequel to Acheron.
Acheron can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Acheron-Bryon-Morrigan/dp/1934861677/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1