The Scourge by Roberto Calas
4 stars - Highly Recommended by Kate
Publisher: 47 North
Guest review by Kate Vane
I was interested in this book because it is set in the Medieval period and it took me a while to register that it had zombies in it. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction but I’ve never read a zombie novel before (shameful, I know).
The book is set during a plague in fourteenth century England, some fifty years after the Black Death. Three knights, the narrator, Sir Edward, and his friends Sir Tristan and Sir Morgan are travelling towards St Edmund’s Bury, where Sir Edward hopes his wife is still living. As they travel, the encounter “plaguers” – ie zombies – and have to fight them before they continue the journey.
The narrator’s voice and the setting felt authentic (apart from the zombie bit, obviously). I never doubted that I was in Medieval England. The zombie metaphor really works in this period – a society in meltdown, as people question church and state and serfdom is in decline.
The different views of religion are highlighted by Edward’s two companions. Sir Morgan is devout. He places his faith not only in God but in organised religion, while Tristan is cynical and world-weary. There is some nice interplay and even some humour between the three main characters but overall the focus is more on action than psychology. There are not too many women in the story and those that appear are not that interesting – apart from one who is, of course, a baddie.
I did feel that the episodic structure (it was originally published as a serial) made it feel a little repetitive at times. Knights travel. Knights run into zombies. Knights fight zombies. Knights move on.
However, each encounter shows a different aspect of Medieval society – from peasants to lords to monks – and each fight has a different aspect to it. The author is very good at building a situation and making you wonder – how will they get out of that? He also appears to have an impressive knowledge of Medieval weaponry.
For those who want to know more about the period, there are historical notes at the end which explain the context, and the deviations the author has taken in the interests of his story.
If you like historical fiction that focuses more on battles and bloodshed than political machinations or personal dramas, this is the book for you. And if you like zombies it’s got them too.
Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End. She lives on the Devon coast in the UK.