Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth

Valley of the Dead
(The Truth Behind Dante's Inferno)
by Kim Paffenroth

During his lost wanderings, Dante stumbled upon an infestation of the living dead. The unspeakable acts he witnessed--cannibalism, live burnings, evisceration, crucifixion, and dozens more--became the basis of all the horrors described in Inferno. Afraid to be labeled a madman, Dante made the terrors he experienced into a more "believable" account of an otherworldly adventure filled with demons and mythological monsters. But at last, the real story can finally be told.

It’s hard for me to swallow anything that even remotely resembles a mashup. With Pride and Prejudice and Zombies having been the first, most after seem nothing more than imitations, which is why I initially had reservations about reading Valley of the Dead. Given Kim’s debut novel Dying to Live, though, I was willing to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Valley of the Dead follows the pseudo narrative of Dante from Dante’s Inferno, in which he and a ragtag team of other survivors (including but not limited to a pregnant woman and a soldier from an army who is attempting to eradicate all life in the great valley) seek to cross a mass of land in order to escape the ravenous undead. This plight isn’t new—oh no. Such outbreaks of the ‘plague,’ as they call it, have happened time and time again. Almost everyone alive has at least one memory of the plague, or an instance where a plague-ridden victim has stumbled into their life asking for help. This time, however, the outbreak has grown far more severe—far worse than anything anyone has ever seen—which makes the situation all the more grim.

In the past, the army has dealt with the plague and things have gone back to normal.

This time, it seems, things might be taking a turn for the worst.

Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth is written in a classical style. Straight-to-the-point but glistening with its varying phases of simplistic description, it’s not hard to awe over the tone that inhabits the novel. There’s always this sense of dread, which I believe most every writer strives for and which all readers grow to envy, and it never slips out at any time. Even in the more humanistic portions of the text there is still that primal depravity that undeniably exists in any horrible situation, which I feel is the greatest strength of the work.

With that being said, I do feel there’s a few things working against Valley of the Dead­—most notably, its style. It’s written in a very classical way and could easily divide audiences. This isn’t a book I would heartily recommend to someone who couldn’t read what is considered more classical literature, and for that it’s hard to recommend it to a horror fan because it suffers those same complications. That in itself is more of a personal stance rather than a true reflection of the work, but it limits its reach in doing so.

The other thing I would like to point out is that, throughout the story, a staccato beat begins to develop. I believe I only noticed this because it only started to occur more frequently in the latter half, but after second thought, I realized this pattern is almost a blueprint for the events that happen in the book. They walk there, they get there, something happens, they deal or don’t, they leave. Repeat that and it eventually becomes the scope of the book—which, in hindsight, can be considered all right to those who approve of and love such adventure-style storytelling, but may dissuade others.

In full, Valley of the Dead is definitely a work that stands on its own. With inspiration from Dante’s Infero, it weaves a story through the old world whilst following a group of people who must survive both the physical and moralistic implications that such a scenario has to offer. It’s not for everyone, but for those it is for, it’ll definitely be an enjoyable read. 

* * *
3 Stars

Get Valley of the Dead
 in paperback (left) or Kindle (right)

Reviewer's notation: I received Valley of the Dead for review from the publisher.

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