First published back in August of 2004, Walter Greatshell’s debut novel ‘Xombies’ (later reissued under the title ‘Xombies: Apocalypse Blues’) was originally planned to be titled ‘Dead Sea’ referring not only to the classic George Romero zombie films, but also the extinct culture of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the inner sea of the human body – specifically, the tides of the menstrual cycle (the X in Xombies refers to the female chromosome). The title is also more relevant to the submarine voyage and its dominating aspects upon the storyline.

The novel was later followed up by the sequels ‘Xombies: Apocalypticon’ (2010) and Xombies: Apocalypso (2011).

DLS Synopsis:
Louise Alaric Pangloss (Lulu) is a seventeen-year-old girl afflicted with Chromosomal Primary Amenorrhea (a condition that suspends her from reaching puberty and therefore undergoing her menstrual cycle).  Lulu and her mother learn of the airborne virus named ‘Agent X’ that is mysteriously spreading across the planet and changing all women undergoing the menstrual cycle (i.e post-puberty and pre-menopause) into vicious walking corpses who have been appropriately dubbed ‘xombies’.

Furthermore, the virus is not just exclusive to women, but can be transmitted to men or indeed females who are not undergoing their menstrual cycle, upon their death.  However it is more often transmitted via a ‘kiss of death’ that is administered by one of these undead xombies.

When Lulu’s mother falls foul of the plague, Lulu is suddenly left on her own in this terrifying new post-apocalyptic world. And before long, Lulu is running from a horde of attacking xombies (one of which is her very own mother), only to be rescued by her father, Fred Cowper, who Lulu has never properly known.  It turns out that Cowper was a highly respected Navy veteran who had retired from the service a number of years ago. Now that they are reunited, Cowper takes Lulu to a secret Navel outpost which is one of just a few remaining areas offering protection to its men.

However, upon their arrival, all hell breaks loose, with wave after wave of xombies storming the premises. Lulu (the only female there) and the four-hundred or so men and boys stationed at the outpost board the huge submarine which they have docked there. The submarine, under the direction of a Commander Coombs, is being taken to a new secret and far more secure location.  Luckily, Lulu, Cowper, et al manage to board the submarine in a daring and desperate last act initiated by Cowper.

With the submarine now carrying too many passengers, strict rationing becomes a life-or-death task, as does maintaining the leadership and overall control aboard the submarine. Whichever destination it is that Coombs plans to take the submarine to is kept as a very strict secret for those on board.  That is until they close in on their final location.  But these few remaining survivors have no idea what to expect at this new secret destination.  None of them could have guessed what it is that they will find there.  And Lulu is about to find that life as one of the only remaining uninfected women is far from an ideal situation to be in...

DLS Review:
From the start Greatshell delivers an ingenious and superbly-written zombie novel that screams of Nevil Shute’s despairingly apocalyptic novel ‘On The Beach’ (1957) mixed with undead action that has immediate echoes of the likes of Danny Boyle’s rage-fuelled blockbuster movie ’28 Days Later...’ (2002) as well as David Wellington’s awe-inspiring ‘Monster’ trilogy (2004-2005).  Indeed, with the majority of the novel taken up by the downbeat desperation aboard the submarine, the reader can’t help but feel reminded of the futile situation detailed so thouroughly throughout Shute
s ‘On The Beach’ (1957).  And here Greatshell plays with the angle of misguided authority incredibly well; keeping the reader completely in the dark as to what is going on throughout so many occasions.

The atmospheric depth in the novel is also second to none, with haunting moments of xombie madness lurking around each and every corner. Greatshell skilfully mounts up the suspense to Commander Coombs’ planned destination for the submarine, whereby the reader is thrust into a whole new scenario that sets out on a completly different and equally unnerving platform for the storyline.

The characterisation throughout the length of the tale is beautifully developed, with a very real love and heartfelt sympathy going out towards the principal character of Lulu who narrates the tale. Combined with the cold and emotionless boundaries projected by a number of other characters, the end result is a further strengthening of the almost palpable hostility for the claustrophobic emotional atmosphere that engulfs the tale (particularly onboard the submarine).

As a whole the tale incorporates a rich and complex array of subplots that weave a tightly-knit storyline throughout the duration of this elaborate post-apocalyptic premise. With such a carefully envisioned plot, the reader can’t help but become immediately submersed in this frightening new and original take on humanities last efforts at survival within a desperate post-apocalyptic world.

Greatshell utilises a number of graphically violent scenes at various key moments throughout the tale. This also includes a couple of disturbingly-realistic scenes of sexual violence, that although not overbearringly graphic in their descriptions, still leaves the reader with haunting images of the ordeals that Lulu is subjected to, painfully etched on their brain.

All in all, ‘Xombies’ delivers a thought-provoking and highly original take on a zombie novel; setting down a carefully thought out storyline that plays with some uniquely inspired ideas. With so many impactful moments littered across the length of the tale, the reader can feel somewhat bombarded by the unrelenting emotional turmoil that the narrator is clearly being put through.  Indeed, Greatshell rarely allows the reader to break the surface of this emotional assault, which only adds further to the powerful delivery of this chaotic and desperate new world.

The novel runs for a total of 346 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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