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The Scourge by Roberto Calas

The Scourge by Roberto Calas
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Book Name: The Scourge
Author: Roberto Calas
Publisher(s): 47North
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Horror / Historical Fiction
Release Date: March 21, 2013

The zombie apocalypse is already here. Popular culture is overrun with the brainless, flesh-eating revenants. Shambling through the streets of cities throughout the fictional world, terrorizing the countryside from Georgia to Great Britain, zombies have permeated pop culture on a level on par with hobbits, vampires and schools for wizards.

For my money, The Walking Dead comic, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and the Resident Evil series do zombies better than most other movies, books or games. The glut of zombie comics, movies and literature coming out on a regular basis points to a market saturation that, sooner or later, will result in a backlash. For the most part, I have little or no desire to expand my living dead horizons. But when a friend brought up The Scourge by Roberto Calas, I was intrigued. Pseudo-fantastical undead apocalypse in 14th Century England? The Plague as a zombie infestation? Why not, right?

The Scourge tells the story of Sir Edward of Bodiam, an English knight fighting his way from Sussex to St. Edmund’s Bury in search of his wife. Along with the lighthearted Sir Tristan and the pious Sir Morgan, Sir Edward is traveling through an English countryside ravaged by zombie plague. The tale is straightforward zombie fare, so any novelty is derived from the setting and time period. And Calas masterfully weaves the Christianity of the 14th Century into the tale. Is God the cause of the plague? Will He cure it? These questions permeate the book. As The Scourge is the first book in a trilogy, there are certainly no answers, but Christianity plays a huge role in the how the plot develops.

I like to keep my reviews spoiler-free, so suffice it to say that—as in most zombie-centric tales—the humans our trio encounter are often as bad—or worse—than the zombies themselves. Zealots, insane noblemen, clergy living in denial and dastardly…entrepreneurs…hamper our heroes’ path, as do—on one occasion—a party of raiding Frenchmen. Add a zombie-fied hawk to the mix and a healthy dose of existential crisis and you have a tale that, while not particularly original, is unique enough to warrant a read.

Roberto Calas has done his research in preparing his story. As Calas says in the Historical Notes that follow the book, the novel is “as historically accurate as [Calas] could make it.” Calas does an admirable job of drawing from history without being beholden to it. Characters are named after or based upon those that loom large in English history. Many of the locations visited by the characters of the book are real-world locations that you could still visit today. Yet Calas is not afraid to diverge from history when the plot demands it. The overall effect is to create an alt-England that is at once foreign and familiar.

What mars this book is the method in which it was written. The Scourge was originally published as an Amazon Serial. And, to its detriment, it reads more like a collection of vignettes than a cohesive novel. This was not a book serialized a chapter at a time. Instead, each episode follows the same formula—meet the baddie du jour, fight, experience existential angst, rinse, repeat. All the while, our heroes inch slowly toward their goal. I found the pace to be jarring and unnatural at times, and was not “sucked in” by any of the episode-ending cliffhangers Calas dangled.

The story is written as a first-person narrative, with Sir Edward telling the tale. Edward is likable enough, in a fashion, but I firmly believe the potential of Calas’ idea is unrealized due to stylistic decisions. There is a good story to be told, but it loses its impact due to the manner of the telling. The first book of a trilogy should leave me yearning for the next volume, but when I finished The Scourge I moved onto other books instead of immediately picking up the sequel. I was interested in the characters, but Calas didn’t succeed in making me care for them. Had some of the tale been told from Morgan or Tristan’s perspective, that may have changed.

Roberto Calas has done an admirable job with The Scourge. He’s taken what is rapidly becoming a tired genre—zombie fiction—and put his own unique stamp upon it. He has the seed of a gripping tale, but stylistic choices and the serial nature of the story’s creation have hampered its growth. Still, if you’re on the hunt for a unique tale of zombies, Christianity and The Plague, it is worth a read.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (7 votes cast)
The Scourge by Roberto Calas, 9.0 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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