First published in October of 2012, ‘Strangers In The Land’ formed US author Stant Litores third instalment into his Zombie Bible series. The novel followed on from the author's previous instalments Death Has Come Up Into Our Windows (2012) and ‘What Our Eyes Have Witnessed’ (2012) which incorporated the same idea of injecting a heavy zombie element into a true-to-life historical/biblical plot.  This particular instalment was loosely based on the events of Judges 4 circa 1160 BC.

DLS Synopsis:
It’s 1160 BC and the Hebrews have successfully taken over the land that had once belonged to the Canaanites.  In the Shiloh Camp, the tribe of Levi reside in their tightly clustered tents.  Here, the holy tribe of Levites, the priests (Kohannim), the judges and the Nazarites share the same camp; their tents surrounding the Tent Of Meeting where the Kodesh Kodashim is held, containing the sacred Ark of the Covenant.

And amongst their numbers is the Navi and Judge of Israel, Devora, who has been anointed by God and given the sight of God when God deems it necessary.  And so the aging prophetess is delivered vivid bursts of visions into the future and past, only when God sees fit.  It is an ability that does not come without its cost.  Or sacrifice.

Protecting the Navi is the Nazarite, Zadok ben Zefanyah.  A great warrior who, as with all of the remaining Nazarites, has taken vows to defend the Ark, the holy tribe of the Levi, the priests and the Navi.  And it is whilst Devora is by the great olive tree, surrounded by her supplicants, that she is first approached by a sick and withered Canaanite girl named Hurriya.  A tired and hungry young heathen who has travelled a great distance in a close-to-death state to bring her sick newborn baby to the Navi.  And once the Navi unwraps the dirt-coated swaddling from around the baby, Devora sees the true horror of the desperate young woman’s plight.  The nameless child, less than a week old, is one of the undead.  Cursed with an unholy resurrection, the small baby has become one of the many resurrected corpses that now plague the land, feeding off the living.

The Navi orders her Nazarite to put an end to the undead child.  The heathen, Hurriya, is pronounced unclean for the next seven days and must be banished from outside of the Shiloh Camp until her seven days have passed.  For the Hebrew law that has been set down must not be broken.  The consequences for deviating from its strict rule are devastating and all too hard to forget for the Navi.

Just thirty years ago the dead had come to Shiloh and slaughtered the many people that were at the time sleeping in their tents.  Devora had witnessed much of it, as she cowered in her tent, listening to the screaming and the bloodthirsty feeding outside the thin canvas enclosure.  And on that very night, she had watched as her own mother was pulled screaming from her tent and became one of them.  Another of the unclean undead.

But as Devora is setting down the stern rules for the heathen woman and her dead baby, three men appear on horseback, having ridden down from the North.  The Chieftain of Israel, Barak ben Abinoam, seeks to speak with the Navi, together with Nimri ben Nabaoth of the Naphtali and Omri of the Zebulun tribe.  They speak of taking the Ark north with them to the town of Walls.  A wish that the Navi cannot accommodate.

But Barak will not accept the Navi’s refusal.  And the following morning, on the sacred day of the Sabbath, Barak sends Nimri and Omri along with a small army of their men to Shiloh to take the Ark and bring it back to him.  However the plan fails, and the bloodshed that follows sees the death of the head of the Levi tribe – Eleazar ben Phinehas ben Eleazar ben Aharon.  A horrific crime that the Navi cannot let rest.  And so, together with her faithful Nazarite, the Navi of Israel goes northwards on horseback to confront Barak, leaving behind the people of Shiloh and her loving husband Lappidoth.

But the numbers of the roaming undead have swelled.  Great hordes of the walking corpses are heading south, towards Barak’s own people, and then on to Shiloh.  Devora and Zadok must side with the heathen Hurriya, who herself has started to see what God sees, as well as with Barak, if they are to have a chance at making the land clean from the curse of the dead once again.  But the alliance is an uneasy one.  And much of the Navi’s faith in her God will be tested to the very brink of collapse, as the fierce and bloodthirsty undead swarm around the remaining living.

For the truth has been told; there will always be strangers in the land, and they will be neglectful of the Law.  Until it is too late...

DLS Review:
Litore’s third book in his ‘Zombie Bible’ series utilises the same brief as was adopted for the previous two instalments.  The novel is once again set upon the rough (and I do mean rough) blueprint of a particular tale in the bible – here the events from the Book of Judges within the Hebrew Bible.  However, Litore purposefully avoids following the exact same storyline only injecting in the additional zombie element, thereby leaning towards another one of those literary mash-ups.  Instead, he utilises the characters, setting and general premise, but allows for his own ‘zombiefied’ take on the tale to follow its own course and direction.

Once again the sheer quality of the writing from this intelligent and knowledgeable author is astonishing.  It makes for a much more engrossing read.  The in-depth knowledge and research that has gone into the creation of the tale makes for a novel that captivates and feels incredibly believable – even with the undead rampaging around the place.

And good god do they rampage!  Here, Litore has upped the gore value tenfold.  The zombies are downright vicious and vile.  These rotting shells of humanity, which Litore has causing absolute mayhem throughout the length of the tale, are some of the most vividly described and, because of that, the some of the most nauseating.

Litore isn’t afraid to wade into the gore and get his literary hands caked in blood and guts.  Okay, so these ‘Zombie Bible’ books are pretty darn far removed from anything that could be classed as splatterpunk.  The novels are too well-written, off-handishly thought-provoking and too complexly involved.  However, Litore still manages to shovel the bloodshed in like there’s no tomorrow.  And the tale is certainly the richer for it.

There’s a great wealth of heartfelt emotion along with powerful displays of human courage and suffering throughout the length of the tale.  Indeed, the character of Zadok ben Zefanyah (the mighty Nazarite) is one of the most endearing yet powerful characters.  Devora (the Navi) is a complex and troubled character – no more so than once the Canaanite girl, Hurriya, is brought into the tale.  From here on much of the woman’s lifelong faith is brought into question, piece by piece, even as the tale draws to a final end.

Although the tale seems reasonably directionless, only hanging on to vague threads of a plot, Litore nevertheless holds the tale tightly together with particularly strong characters (and their conflicts) as well as an overall intensity to the tale brought about by the snowballing zombie threat that worsens by the page.

Women take on a particularly dominant role within the novel – although certainly not from the outset.  Indeed, Litore uses the near-universal repression of the female sex to project forth a notion of women showing their strength and compassion against all the odds.

It’s amazing (and intriguing) to see the various customs and laws that are firmly set in stone during the time of the Old Testament.  This attention to detail and evident passion for historical correctness is what sculpts the tale into such a mesmerising read.  It feels almost real.  With its feet firmly wedged in part-factual-part-fiction, Litore has created something that blends all too easily with a biblical reality.  And god does that make it one hell of a chilling read!

The novel runs for a total of 456 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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