First published back in March of 2003. US author Len Barnhart’s second instalment in his zombie holocaust ‘Reign Of The Dead’ trilogy was entitled ‘Reign Of The Dead: Apocalypse End’.

In April 2010 the novel was followed on by the third and final instalment into the trilogy, the prequel to the books entitled ‘Reign Of The Dead: Outbreak’ (2010).

DLS Synopsis:
Over the last year, Jim Workman and his band of fellow survivors from the devastating zombie apocalypse have made themselves at home within the seven-story underground Mount Weather complex.  However the radio broadcast that they received from survivors proclaiming to be holed-up on Tangier Island off the coast of Virginia still bothered him. He needs to know if they are still alive.  He needs to know if they’re still out there. 

And so, leaving the security and protection offered to them by the underground governmental facility, Jim Workman and Matthew Ford set off in their Humvee, hoping to locate whatever survivors there may be left at Tangier Island.

Meanwhile the survivors that Jim and Matt are hoping to reach have been flying over to the mainland in their helicopter to search for any other survivors in the vicinity.  But unbeknown to them, their searches haven’t gone unnoticed.  Lt. Col. George Bates of the white supremacy and anti-government militia known as The Virginia Freedom Fighters has seen their helicopter flying over the mainland of Virginia.  And so he sends out his second in command, Lieutenant Robert Hathaway with a ten-strong unit of militia soldiers to find and capture these unknown individuals.

As Jim and Matt draw closer to the possible area where the survivors of Tangier Island may be frequenting, their paths meet those of Lt. Hathaway’s.  With his extreme prejudice against black people, Hathaway takes an instant dislike to Ford and in turn the man who is travelling with him – Jim Workman.  And seeing as they are driving around in a military issue vehicle, Hathaway decides that the two could well be trouble for the Freedom Fighters.  And so, he captures the two survivors from the Mount Weather complex, taking them prisoner in the militia’s army personnel truck.

Nearby, the searching team from Tangier Island have found themselves in hot water all of a sudden.  The zombie threat is still very much a string and deadly presence across the mainland.  And with his fellow search and rescue team now gone, Leon needs to find his way back to the community on the island.  But there’s a lot more than the undead to be concerned about out there now.  And it’s more than just Leon’s life at stake should the Freedom Fighters make it over to Tangier Island…or indeed, the underground Mount Weather complex.

The struggle for survival in this hostile new world continues…

DLS Review:
So we’re back again with Barnhart’s second addition to the increasingly popular ‘zombie holocaust’ subgenre.  The author’s first instalment into the trilogy entitled ‘Reign Of The Dead’ (2001) at the time had made moderate waves across the horror circuit, with the novel being one of just a reasonably limited number of recently published zombie novels out on the market around that period (a few years later the whole zombie genre would pretty much explode, with the horror market completely flooded with novels of this nature).  Now with the second addition, Barnhart continued to secure his name within the increasingly competitive field of zombie fiction.

Unlike the first novel, Barnhart’s sequel adopts a noticeably slower, more cautious pace, with the premise for the storyline gradually set down as the reader plods through the novel as opposed to the ‘hell-for-leather’ approach that the author used in the first book.  That’s not to say it’s not still an exciting and entertaining zombie yarn.  It’s that and bucket loads more.  But where Barnhart would previously have jumped straight into the thrills and spills of a particular section in the story, now he instead creeps closer and closer to the action, building up the suspense and tension until the time is just right to grab the reader by the throat and throw them in to the thick of it all.

Taking a slight sidestep away from the zombie menace, Barnhart instead incorporates a ‘far right white power’ militia into the mix, with some pretty tense and action-heavy results.  The zombies very quickly take a backseat in the unravelling storyline; with their lumbering presence barely even a blip on the radar after a while.  However, they refuse to be 100% forgotten, and after a while, Barnhart seems to remember that this is actually a ‘zombie novel’ and suddenly shifts the focus back on to the moaning hordes of the undead.

The novel feels a lot tighter than the first instalment, with a lot less sub-stories bombarding the reader from all angles.  This isn’t necessarily a good or indeed a bad thing.  It’s just what it is.  However, one of the particular aspects from the first novel that worked so well was the amount of strong action-packed situations that were getting thrown into the novel all of the time.  There are still a handful of relatively impactful substories branching off from the main plotline of this second instalment, but nothing compared with the sheer dominance of the numerous subplots from the previous book.

Realism is once again replaced with escapism and the overriding quest to entertain.  Yeah, there are some pretty off-the-wall twists of fate (both good and bad) and outrageously good turns of fortune scattered throughout the tale.  Barnhart like to see all his characters and their individual storylines converging, with ingeniously (or ‘highly unlikely’ depending on your point of view) connecting substories.  This certainly helps to make a more well-rounded and tight story.  Willing suspension of disbelief is damn near essential if you want to get on with Barnhart’s work.  And once you do admit that the story is just there to entertain, nothing more and nothing less, then chances are you’ll find the story one hell of a rollercoaster of a ride.

Like with the first book in the trilogy, the novel is broken down into particularly short chapters, each one promising to end on either a particularly poignant note, or a heart-stopping cliff-hanger.  In doing so, it makes the novel easy to charge through at any given time, with a suitable place to put the novel down always just a page or two away.

The novel keeps up the pace and the constant pressure on our group of hardened survivors, until the wonderfully gripping finale brings this particular instalment to an end.  Another absolute blast!

The novel runs for a total of 270 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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