Your Brother’s Blood by David Towsey

Firstly, a note, it’s been Christmas and despite me finishing reading this book long before it, various commitments have meant that I’ve not written this until now, but here it is, as my first review of 2014!

Now then, there will be no bias in this review, I promise. I can guarantee as I am no longer being tutored by the author’s partner. Moving swiftly on. Your Brother’s Blood is a zombie western, which is a genre I have not read before, and neither have I read either of its component parts to any great length. So as a novice to the western genre and the zombie genre I felt a mixture of the two would be a suitable introduction to both. Thankfully, I wasn’t let down. Your Brother’s Blood is a fine example of fantasy fiction.

One of the key points in this novel is religion. The concept of the novel follows Thomas McDermott, a Walkin’ as he travels back as a zombie from a flame scorched battlefield to his home town of Barkley, before escaping the town with his young daughter. Barkley is a pseudo-religious community. I use pseudo as I feel they are members of a pseudo-Christian faith. They are like a rather unhealthy sect which has taken biblical scripture in the wrong way and imposed too many limitations on it. They advocate the banning of forms of artistic expression for example. I wouldn’t say the book is anti-Christian but nor is it particularly pro. There is a sense of religion having a potential for evil, yet this particular religion – though bound in Christianity – cannot be described as anything less. Christianity certainly has its shortcomings, and this novel highlights the more extreme ones. Yet despite almost every name in the novel being taken from the Bible, and there being sideways references to Christianity it would appear that the author never intended it as a direct representation of Christianity. The Bible is ‘The Good Book’ and God is ‘The Good Lord;’ they are colloquialisms which have now become gospel, however neither The Bible nor God are directly mentioned by name. To me it seems as if this is as much a critique of religion as it is to sects and importantly a warning against religious brainwashing.

The novel is perhaps a little slow to start and the perspective changes a lot. As a result it is hard to keep track of all of the characters and plot trails which are rapidly introduced in the first section. It makes for a confusing first few hundred pages. However, the plot carries you through these first hundred pages or so with enough intrigue and momentum that you find yourself ingrained within the story. Towsey’s atmosphere is excellent, the characters are very believable and have clearly been thought about extensively. Each character is a personality in their own way – not one of them smacks of filler or plot device. The meat of the novel begins a third of the way through.

The atmosphere again is added to by the use of alternate named animals (horses are ‘shaggies’ etc.) and slight anachronisms of day-to-day human life as we know it. The bleak badlands scenery and the dust comes to life on the page. It makes a very pleasing picture. However, the setting feels very foreign, and despite this not inherently being a bad thing, I do find it errs on the side of alienation sometimes. Akin to NADSAT in A Clockwork Orange, yet not as developed. The alternate names for animals, I felt, needed more attention as there is a fine line between dropping in a few unknown words and phrases and letting the reader work it out for themselves and confusing them entirely. I feel it should be all or nothing, in a novel set in two hundred and fifty years it seems implausible that language wouldn’t change, yet I think that it hasn’t changed enough. When forced to work out what ‘shaggies’ ‘under-mutton’ and ‘red winks’ are, I feel they should play a more prominent part of the text – or at least, the concept of working out language should. They were an interesting idea but they were somewhat brushed past – there was a lot which could be done with language which I felt wasn’t done.

Overall, the novel is certainly an interesting one. It’s part of a trilogy, so the ending isn’t quite the ending of a standalone text, yet it doesn’t leave you feeling unfulfilled by any means. It’s an interesting read, and excellent in the way of transporting you to the town of Barkley. Just the right amount of thrill and suspense, intertwined with complex religious sensibilities, moral values and amoral values. I’ll be interested to see what happens next.