Author: Bret Jordan
Publisher: Purple Sword Publications
Rating: *** (out of 5)
I’ve got a long, personal history with Plague. Both Bret Jordan’s novel and my own Jennings Grove started as online serials for Graveside Tales. Jordan and I would help each other with plot ideas, copy editing and the like. Due to some upheaval in my life, I never finished reading Plague online, so I was thrilled to see it finally make it into print. This was a phenomenal online novel; Jordan has made it even better for the final draft. Mostly.
Sword and sorcery battle against an unstoppable hunger as the few living residents try and escape the walls of an undead nightmare. Renier is a port city that stands as a glorious gem on the edge of the kingdom. The people are justly ruled by their beloved duke with the assistance of a benevolent wizard and a self-involved priest. Within twenty-four hours everything changes as a small group of strange lepers enter the port and cause a mysterious and deadly illness to rage through the city, killing most of the residents. Violent illness and gruesome death isn’t the end of the horror for the residents of Renier. Not by a long shot, as thousands of dead bodies rise from the cobblestone streets in search of living prey.
Jordan does some fantastic storytelling here. His world-building is tightly focused on Renier, but well done. The characters are, for the most part, well thought out and fleshed out. They fell flat a few times in my opinion, especially the wizard at times, but it worked well overall. His beginning and middle are some of the best fantasy writing I’ve encountered, bar none. His use of zombies is unique…even if he never calls them that (except for one perhaps accidental reference). His sensory imagery is absolutely wonderful. A little too much, in fact. It’s hard to read the passages of people dying of the plague on a full stomach. Jordan shows a flare for the visceral that reminds me of Clive Barker.
It’s at the end that Plague starts to unravel a bit. An undead general who’s played up as a military genius doesn’t get enough air time — nor does his supposedly brilliant strategic mind. The general has a pair of partners, one of which is a wraith that is given a great deal of mysterious potential but either unaccountably dissappears or is an assassin character that shows up unaccountably later in the book. But if said assassin is the “wraith,” it’s a lot more solid later than earlier. But it’s also rushed. Things not only move quickly, they move so fast and end so abruptly that Plague feels incomplete. The book doesn’t just cry out for a sequel, it demands one. I won’t give the ending away, but I will say that for me it lacked a satisfactory conclusion. It felt more like the midpoint of the story rather than the end.
But even so, Plague was worth the wait and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes good, dark fantasy.
EDIT: Talked to Mr. Jordan today, and he tells me there is a sequel in the works at some point. So while that doesn’t necessarily alleviate all the issues Plague has, it should go a long way to fixing it.