Tim Lebbon’s latest novel Coldbrook starts off in a manner that’s familiar to most horror and sci-fi fans in a covert laboratory where scientists push the limits. The end result is a zombie apocalypse, but rather then the usual staple of zombie horror, Lebbon manages to take it to another level. The scientists in Coldbrook have recently opened a gateway, or breach to an alternate earth when the book begins. It is from this other world that the zombie infestation originates but over the course of the novel we learn that the true origin and reason for the zombie infestation is much more complex. Lebbon tells his story from the point of view of Jonah, one of the lead scientists at Coldbrook, Vic, member of the Coldbrook staff that escapes during the initial outbreak in an attempt to save his family, Jayne, a woman who suffers from a chronic disease prior to the outbreak and may be humanity’s one hope of survival, and Holly, a scientist at Coldbrook who supposedly has qualms with being a Christian and a scientist.
Lebbon separates his vision of a zombie apocalypse from the plethora of others by having his zombies not eat the flesh of their victims. Instead they tend to attack like rabid dogs, mauling and killing and then moving on. Their victims die and rise up to help spread the disease. Thankfully there are no self-aware love struck zombies or any of that nonsense.
Lebbon excels when it comes to creating scenes of suspense. Whether it be the intial outbreak or visitors at a national park being assaulted by the zombies, Lebbon knows how and when to crank it up to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. It makes for some great entertainment.
Another strong point of Lebbon’s writing is that he knows just the right balance of too much gore and not enough. His work is definitely not gorehound stuff but neither is it watered down.
What really sets Lebbon’s novel apart from a lot of other zombie fiction is that it isn’t about a bunch of people looting canned goods and trying to find shelter or their missing girlfriend. It’s mainly about a group of scientists who are attempting as best they can to contain the outbreak and later attempt to find a cure. Even if some of their plans falter, at least it isn’t the same old same old.
The whole idea of alternate earths and multi-universes that Lebbon explores in his story is a great one and the way he ties it together with the zombie outbreak is quite ingenious. I would like to see Lebbon continue to explore this idea in the future. The way the novel ends, there’s definitely room to explore both the alternate earth(s) and the characters.
Lebbon introduces a antagonist called The Inquisitor. Bit by bit throughout the story you learn more about him and in the final act of the novel you finally see his world. It’s not a long scene but it is rather brilliant and Lebbon manages to do a brilliant job of capturing the hypocritical and terrifiying nature of it. I just wish I could’ve gotten to see more of it, and more about the people there before the end.
Tim Lebbon’s novel is set in the United States of America, yet there are several times where his American characters use British terms/slang. I know Lebbon’s British but it completely ruins any sense of immersion when this happens. It happens in the narration as well, but I can let that go since it’s written in 3rd person. But not when it occurs in dialogue. It may seem minor but an American soccer mom saying ‘fayre’ instead or ‘fair’ doesn’t fit the character at all or an American saying ‘bloody’ in exasperation doesn’t either. I think Lebbon needs to study up on American slang if he’s going to write them as characters in the future.
Despite the numerous characters in the novel, I never developed an emotional attachment to any of them. They all felt rather one dimensional to me. I think Lebbon just expects the reader to have an emotional reaction to a character having a wife that died from cancer, or two characters having an affair years ago. Rather he should’ve developed these emotional aspects of each character through more interactions, dialogues, or even flashbacks (although I’m not a fan of using flashbacks too much). If he’d shown me these things rather then merely telling me and expecting me to bring my own emotion then it would’ve been a much more powerful read. As it stands now I found the characters dull.
I would recommend this book to fans of Lebbon and suggest it to those who enjoy speculative fiction that don’t mind a bit of horror/gore mixed together with their sci-fi. I don’t think the casual or even hardcore zombie fan would dig this one. It is a smartly written book with a lot of good things going on in terms of plot and concepts yet the dull characters really hamper it. If there was just one character that I could cheer for or hope for regardless of their fate it would make Coldbrook a fantastic read. As it stands, Coldbrook is an okay read. It’s not something to treasure for a long time, but not something to toss into the trash, either. Rather its something I read and when I was done I was ready to read something else. I doubt I’ll have lasting memories of the book.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 skulls