Book Review: Coldbrook / Author: Tim Lebbon / Publisher: Hammer / Release Date: October 11th
In a hidden research facility, deep in the Appalachian mountains, a team of scientists achieve the impossible. They create a portal to an alternate Earth. Just as they are celebrating their success, however, something comes through the portal and unleashes a plague of the undead that threaten to wipe out the human race. Only one woman seems to be immune, but there are millions of walking corpses between her and the team of scientists who hope she can provide a cure.
Yes, Coldbrook is a zombie novel, and one or two of you are no doubt thinking that the alternate reality zombie had already been covered by the increasingly bad Marvel Zombies comic books. While it's true that both pieces of work share a very basic premise, Coldbrook is a very different kind of zombie story.
That's not to say that most of the old tropes are not present and correct. They are, and let's be honest here - most lovers of zombie novels would have been a little disappointed if they weren't. Everything from the panicking staff member who breaks the containment rules, to the characters being trapped with low ammunition and surrounded by ravenous zombie hordes. Make no mistake, this is a proper zombie story, complete with numerous high tension set pieces and enough blood to please even the most discerning gore hound. We even get both the running and shambling undead, with a neat explanation of the differences between them. Some purists may complain about that, but it all makes sense in the context of the story.
What starts to set Coldbrook apart from the rest of the pack is the alternate reality plot. Rather than simply being a mechanism for getting the zombies onto the planet, the concept of infinite worlds becomes an integral and fascinating part of the story. It's no longer just one world that's threatened by the undead plague, but an infinite number. That sets the stakes very high, and the introduction of an external antagonist who seems to be unleashing the undead on countless Earths takes them higher still. Once things get going, the plot is incredibly fast paced and makes for compelling reading.
That's not to say that the book isn’t without some issues. The biggest one really is that for some large sections it really is just another zombie story, albeit an entertaining and well written one. There are only so many times you can read about the same things happening over and over again, especially when the alternative reality plot line was so much more interesting. There was one character in particular that readers could find it difficult to empathise with and so in the scenes where that character is in peril from the zombie hordes, some people may find themselves rooting for the zombies. It would also have been nice to get a more definitive answer on what the undead were, and what force was driving them. Because the science was well explained throughout the book, it felt like an omission that we didn't find out more about this particular breed of zombie and what created them.
Those minor points aside, Coldbrook is a heart pounding, blood drenched, yet intelligent and original take on the undead. It successfully blends the horror, fantasy and science fiction elements into an utterly compelling and satisfying story that stays with you after the book is finished. Zombie stories don't get much better than this.