Written by Bryan Smith
Published by Leisure Books
When I sat down with Bryan Smith’s first Leisure novel, House of Blood, I remember I got very excited by the idea’s concept in the first 40 or so pages, but then once the action moved to the titular house, things slowed way down. So when Deathbringer showed up at my door, I was determined to approach it with a more realistic mindset.
Now that I’ve finished it I can say with confidence that Deathbringer is a far better novel. The characters are more realistic, their backstsory was given more development, and of course the plot is better not because it’s wholly original, but rather because it takes a very tired concept (zombie apocalypse) and gives it a new twist.
Our story opens with a young wife-to-be, Hannah, happily planning the details of her upcoming wedding to rookie cop Mike O’Bannon, a man she’s only known a year but is confident is “the one”. A girl comes by the house with the seeming intention of selling magazine subscriptions, but once she gets inside makes it clear that she’s got more violent things on her mind. As we later learn this girl, Melinda, was dared by he friends to enter Hannah’s home and shoot her point-blank, which Melinda does with ease and more than a little sexual stimulation.
Cut to a few weeks later. Mike, having just put his intended in the ground, receives a strange book on his front doorstep called Invocations of the Reaper. Though his grief is nearly all consuming, he’s still a cop at heart and can’t help but be curious. Upon opening it, something else takes over and he begins reading passages aloud in Latin, something he later doesn’t recall doing and insists would be impossible since he can’t read Latin. This reading sets in motion the plan of the Deathbringer, the first step of which is to bring the dead back to life
The Deathbringer was a man once but was granted the power of a Reaper. Now his is tasked for all eternity to collect the souls of the dead. This particular Deathbringer, however, doesn’t want the job anymore and feels the only way to bring an end to it all, for both himself and his brethren, is to confront the very force he’s working for, which most assume is God. The only way to really get God’s attention is to wipe out his creation, so he plants the book for Mike to read. Luckily there is another force out there who are well aware of all of these goings on and have sent their own agent, Hawthorne, to put an end it the Deathbringer’s apocalyptic schemings.
Oddly enough, that’s only a part of the story. At the same time as the dead are rising from their graves, consumed by a lust for fresh flesh and blood, Melinda is honing her skills as a serial killer. She does away with her two boy-toys, who are by this time completely terrified of her, but has to make a quick escape when they come back to life in front of her eyes. She runs into a man, Avery, whom she sees as an easy mark for seduction skills, and convinces him to give her a ride to someplace safe. To add further wrinkles, Avery is actually Hannah’s brother and is on his way to Mike O’Bannon’s home to try and figure out what’s going on with the dead returning to life. Melinda sees all this as too rich to be coincidence, and starts planning ways to satiate her own blood lust almost right away.
Confused? I don’t blame you if you are, because there’s a lot to the plot of Deathbringer, too much to explain over a few paragraphs, but Smith does a masterful job putting it all together while keeping the pacing of the book quick and dirty. A lot of characters are introduced one after another, but I never lost track of who was who, something I recall happening a few times with House of Blood, demonstrating that Smith is becoming even better with his creations.
He’s definitely got the skills of a writer with far more experience under his belt, skills which are honed to a very fine point with Deathbringer. You care about these people'; who they are and what they’re going through, and even the villains are made a tad sympathetic. Not necessarily with the intention of making you feel sympathetic towards them; rather to paint them as more human, which makes their villainous deeds that much more evil.
Another aspect that I really enjoyed, which may or may frustrate some, is that about halfway through the book the whole zombie apocalypse plot is almost put on the backburner as Melinda goes further and further off the deep end in her quest show just how badass she really is. It’s almost a diversion, another story all together going on while the main plot gets closer to it’s conclusion in the world outside, and helped give Deathbringer a more unique feel than your standard zombie apocalypse survivor tale.
I really can’t think of any problems with Deathbringer, though I hesitate to give it a perfect rating because though Deathbringer does make an overdone story more interesting, it’s basis is still something we’ve seen before. And how can a prefect rating be handed out to a book with such a horrendous cover? Seriously, probably the worst one I’ve ever seen from Leisure, what were they thinking? I will say that it’s more than worth your time to give it a go; chances are you’ll burn through it in a few sittings like I did and hopefully you’ll enjoy it just as much.
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