Saturday, September 26, 2015

Your Brother's Blood by David Towsey

A weird western zombie? I was definitely intrigued when I heard about David Towsey's daring debut, Your Brother's Blood that promised to be a fun mashup but what I wasn't expecting was the emotionally draining narrative and a deftly executed story that never loses its tight personal focus till the surprising climax.

Yes - I'm late to this party and I discovered David Towsey's excellent debut pretty late ( this book was released in 2013 by Jo Fletcher Books) but I'm glad I did and I really am jazzed up now that I've finished the intriguing story. Are there more books set in this universe? ( Edit: The trilogy is now complete - with Your Servants and Your People (2014) and Your Resting Place (2015) )



So at the heart of this story is unflinching faith - gone a bit too extreme in it's interpretation. The biblical references are very strong - be it the character names like Thomas, Mary, Sarah, Samuel or the very cool transcriptions from 'Councilman Cirr's speeches at the Black Mountain Consensus' at the start of every chapter or the chapter/book numbering that follows Bible. David here is telling us a twisted tale of 'the seeds of the devil' and 'tarnished souls' for whom the gates of heaven are closed, left to fester and walk the earth after they are dead. Known as the 'Walkin' the undead souls are now as much an inheritor of this meek earth as are pockets of humanity - sparse and left to fend for themselves with very little. David cleverly doesn't expound on the causes of this apocalypse - only that certain men and women are prone to become 'Walkin'. The holy texts refer to this as the Second Fall of man.

Small-town America - represented here as a town called Barkley named after the founder whose texts and tenets are still held up and followed religiously ( fanatically by some!) - is a gritty desolate landscape hemmed in by bordering 'redlands' and inhospitable mountains all around. The idyllic town where the citizens toil for their livelihood is rudely jerked out of its dream living when the Red army barges into town - to recruit young men of good faith to take the fight to the 'Walkin'. And then as months go by, the blissful town that imagined these slow shambling seeds of the devil monster only as part of the fiery gospels delivered by Pastor Grey in their Sunday Sabbaths suddenly experience the horror in person - as Walkin' - dead soldiers from the war - shamble into town. To get back to their older ways and reunite with family. One such is Jared Peekman - who is publicly executed along with his younger brother as family carries the taint.

Another is Thomas McDermott.

The first scene where Thomas wakes up in the middle of badly burnt pyre of dead bodies and realizes he is now a Walkin' - with full memory of his past life, including his lovely wife Sarah and daughter Mary whom he left behind in Barkley and the clear memory of the enemy's bayonet sinking into his chest - is absolutely haunting and evocative in full measure. That's when I knew I had to finish this book to see what happens to Thomas and his family.

It's gripping, it's harrowing and it's zombie western done extremely well - while the world is massive and the story could have gone in any interesting tangent, David plays it close to his heart. Smartly using chapter headings to establish some parts of the cause of the apocalypse and setting the stage where Walkin share the world with humans, he drops enough hints for an intelligent reader to pick up and expound their imagination. But he keeps the narrative really tight and spins an achingly beautiful and heartfelt story of a father-daughter duo who find their broken links and mend their relationship. Bonding on the road, on the run from crazed fanatics blinded by extreme faith.

Thomas, the father and Mary, the daughter are characters that will sear their way into your heart. Mary - who quickly adjusts to the fact that her father is a Walkin' stole my heart with her guileless naivete and charming simplicity of looking at life. So does Thomas who keeps things in perspective and is torn between his love for his daughter and the need to do good. A character we entirely sympathize with for the quandary he is in. That of being an undead possessed fully of his earlier life memories and needs.

On the other side of the camp, we get a mixed bag of villains -and not all of them are baying for the Walkin's blood. Luke, the face of faith gone ugly was definitely the most interesting while the others were a grey mix. Nathaniel, the gravekeeper, Belize the law keeper, Pastor Grey with his bible thumping loathing of the abominable Walkin' etc were certainly intriguing but with so less page-time dedicated to them, I couldn't get myself to like them much.

It's a slim book - and an immersive fast read at that - and for the same reason, by the time we race to the finish that sees the final confrontation between the bad and the good guys, we feel the ending is a bit rushed. I felt cheated - but perhaps that was intentional as now am definitely invested for the rest of the trilogy. David's sparse style of writing certainly fits the bill for the zombie western type of novels he is spinning out and am hoping to pick up book two and three right after in this biblical trilogy. A truly memorable debut that deserves more attention and love!

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