Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stronger Than Death, (Snuff Books), by Steven L. Shrewsbury

"Stronger Than Death" mixes one of the bloodiest chapters of American history - the Civil War - with reanimated souls hungry for vengeance and a man's quest for restoration and respect. An entertainer as always, Shrewsbury delivers a fun yarn that's bloody but redemptive, also.

Sam Stuart is a factory worker running on the last dregs of a tattered self-respect. A broken drunk who has lost both his wife and children, he lives and drinks alone. Worse, he's recently suffered horrible visions of bloodshed and death, nightmares of wholesale slaughter wrought during the Civil War. Haunted by an apparition claiming to be the spirit of a Confederate ancestor, Sam wonders if he's finally losing his mind.

His dreams and visions are more than alcoholic hallucinations, however. Someone else has suffered ghostly visits by a vengeful spirit. Its goal? A Civil War relic storing the souls of Union soldiers. Once the relic has been recovered and they've been set free, these souls inhabit the nearest dead body to reanimate them. An army of the dead is raised, and not only are they angry at their centuries-long imprisonment in limbo...they're quite insane.

They've higher aims than random bloodshed and destruction, however. After they've all been freed, one last soul remains in Hell...the one responsible for cursing them in the first place. They reserve special plans for this spirit, and require a special body for those plans, one living and fresh...

Sam Stuart's teenage daughter. Guided by the spirit of his ancestor, Sam must gird himself and fend off his alcoholism long enough to send the dead back where they came from, as well as save his daughter...before she becomes one of them.

"Stronger than Death" is a fun, new variation on an old horror trope: bloody battle against legions of the undead. Like the zombies in Brian Keene's "The Rising" and "Dead City", however, these zombies are cunning and ruthless, not lurching, mindless flesh-eating automatons. Also, with the historical bits he mixed into the story, Shrewsbury reminds readers of how bloody and merciless the Civil War was; something easy to forget after years of studying lifeless textbook accounts of the "Brother's War".

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