|YOUR BROTHER’S BLOOD
David Towsey (davidtowsey.blogspot.co.uk)
Jo Fletcher Books (www.jofletcherbooks.com)
Thomas McDermott has left his family, and his community in the small town of Barkley, and gone off to fight in a war in which he has no conviction. When Thomas returns home, he will be a much changed man – Thomas is dead, a Walkin’, an abomination in the eyes of his friends and neighbours, an abomination that cannot be allowed to continue existing. When the religious fanatics of Barkley decide that the offspring of the Walkin’ must suffer the same fate as their parents, Thomas flees into the wilderness with his daughter – a posse chasing close behind – in search of a rumoured haven for the his kind.
Set almost 1000 years in the future, where the Earth is a desolate place, a shadow of what it once was. According to the histories, Automated Man has long since fallen from scientific grace, the cause of which has been lost in the mists of time. What is known is that one of that age’s greatest discoveries led to a mutation in a large portion of the population that caused the dead to return to life, the mind active while the body continues on a steady downward path of decay.
David Towsey introduces us to the town of Barkley through the sermon of the fanatical Pastor Gray, immediately giving us some idea of the mind-set that drives the people of this small town. In parallel to this, we meet Thomas as he awakens at the bottom of a funeral pyre pit, partially-burned and almost immediately fully aware of what he has become. When one of Thomas’ comrades, also newly risen from the dead, stumbles into town, we learn how the people of Barkley, under the leadership of Gray, deal with the Walkin’, and their families. From there, the course of the novel seems strangely inevitable, as Thomas turns towards home, dooming not only himself, but his teenage daughter, Mary. And yet, there are surprises in store as we watch the dynamics of the important characters in this small town: the pastor and his acolyte, the law man, the grave digger, the elder, and Thomas’ wife, Sarah.
There is a post-apocalyptic feel to the novel, though there is no evidence of any single catastrophic event that might have led humanity to this point. This is a world with no technology, a world that has reverted to a much simpler time and, as such, Barkley feels like it’s located in some remote corner of the Old American West. Without the documentation and transcripts that act as chapter leads, this might be an old-fashioned weird Western – The Walking Dead meets Shane – or a tale set in some fantasy world, like Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country. As it is, the actual location matters little; this is a tale driven purely by the characters and the circumstances in which they find themselves.
At the centre of the tale is the McDermott family; not only Thomas and Sarah and Mary, but also Thomas’ extended family – his brother ends up joining the posse sent out to hunt Thomas down. It’s a tale of the inexplicable bonds that keep a family together and make it whole, the love that exists between husband and wife, and between parents and children. There is no surprise when Thomas’ first thought upon discovering that he is now dead is to see his family once more, regardless of how dangerous it might be for him, or the harsh words spoken between him and his wife before he left for the front. Around the family are the other characters – the law man who may be sympathetic to their cause; the grave digger who has no desire to see more death than is necessary; and, most interestingly, the religious fanatics who believe they have been sent by some god or other to rid the world of evil. There is a long tradition of these characters in the horror genre (I’m always reminded most forcefully of The Mist’s Mrs Carmody); here, they work very well, because there is a ring of truth to them, a sense that we might see them on the evening news ranting about whatever pet hate drives them ever onwards.
Your Brother’s Blood is the first part of a series known as The Walkin’. Despite the name, and the subject matter, David Towsey’s debut novel bears no resemblance to that other modern zombie staple The Walking Dead (even though I’ve now mentioned it twice in the space of a single review). These are not George A. Romero-style zombies with an insatiable lust for braaaaaaaiiiiins!, but people whose physiology refuses to let them stay dead, allowing them to carry on as if nothing had happened. In some ways, it’s an examination of how war changes men, with resurrection presenting a much more literal change than the psychological impact normally implied.
Beautifully written, Your Brother’s Blood is literary horror at its best. David Towsey aims not for cheap scares or toe-curling gore, but for an all-pervading sense of doom that grows as we progress through the narrative. A gripping storyline and characters about whom we care (whether we want to see them live, or die slow and horrible deaths) ensure that the reader will be drawn completely into this relatively short novel. An intense and timeless tale of family and love, it is a wonderful introduction to an extremely talented new voice in genre fiction, and a great start to what promises to be a future classic.