Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Marching Dead

by Lee Battersby


Marius don Hellespont is remarkably hard to please. The rogue has cheated death and managed to escape to a country idyll with the woman of his dreams, Keth, but he's too much of a troublemaker to be happy about it. But after four years of not-exactly-bliss, the dead are back to torment him. Keth is kidnapped and pulled underground by a dead man, so Marius sets out to try to rescue her.

Marius' old friend Gerd is back, accompanied by his profane and earthy Granny. "Someone appeared to have played a cruel trick upon a rotten apple" is how the author introduces her. Together they set off to find out what has happened to Keth, and also what is wrong with the underworld. The dead are supposed to stay underground, but they are walking amongst the living. Some of them are following orders like unthinking zombies. Around the country there is evidence of murder and destruction, and something terrible in the works.

The Marching Dead is very funny. It's full of rich descriptions of places, as seen from Marius' cynical perspective, full of wit and vinegar. We also get to meet more of his family, which goes some way to explaining why he's such a messed-up individual. His dysfunctional attitude to money and honesty makes much more sense after we learn about his origins.

Marius and his crew encounter smugglers, whores, nuns, and other misfits, both living and dead. There are plenty of twists that keep the story interesting, so it's never a simple matter to figure out who he can trust. There are lots of enjoyable characters, both new and old. Granny is hilariously frank, and there's Arnobew, an old warrior who is mad as a hatter. Drenthe is a cunning opponent with hidden depths, whilst Gerd matures considerably from the dumb farm boy he once was.

This novel tackles themes of guilt, sin, and the way religion is used to control people. In many ways it uses the dead as a clever metaphor for this, but it's not a subtle one. In the final chapter it's as though the author is saying "this is exactly what the book is about and how you should interpret it, in case you missed it." For me, it crossed the line from satisfyingly clear to overly blatant at the start of the last chapter, and I felt like I was being talked down to for a couple of paragraphs or so.

On the other hand, the ending is pretty good in terms of creating closure, completing the story arc, and having an impact. The Marching Dead is an amusingly sordid, sweary romp in the company of an incorrigible rogue, but it goes out on a high note.

27th May 2013

Book Details

Year: 2013

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  

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