Written by: Joseph Souza
Reviewed by Michael Juvinall, Horror Society
“Dar ran out the back door before I could stop her. I limped behind, clutching my ribs in pain. I pulled open the screen door and searched for her. Behind the house sat a dilapidated barn. Dar stood near the double doors, which were slightly ajar, and waved me over. I made my way down until I stood next to her, hearing moans resonating from inside. Dar peeked her head inside the door, and I knelt down beneath her and looked inside too.
What I saw repulsed me. Three bizarre looking creatures knelt over two adults and appeared to be pulling organs out of the bodies. The creatures appeared to be children—or were children at one time. But they were children no more. They fought amongst themselves over the heads, which had been ripped from the bodies. They clawed away at every orifice in an attempt to extricate the gray brain matter. Blood was smeared over their mouths. They sucked at the eye sockets and slurped hungrily, screeching in competition for the bloody morsels. They pulled out stringy tendons from the neck and chewed as if it were linguine. They pushed and shoved each other. I noticed some distinct physical differences between the children. The smallest one had what seemed like feathers covering his body, as well as a tiny set of wings attached to his back. The girl had a round nose like a snout and pointy ears that continually flicked away flies. She made grunting noises as she chomped down on the hair-covered skull bones. The oldest boy looked like an animal too, but nothing in particular that I could identify.”-excerpt
The zombie sub-genre has become increasingly overcrowded as of late. Everyone and their brother has written a zombie novel or penned a screenplay that will be turned into the next big movie, a la The Walking Dead, World War Z, or almost anything by Brian Keene. But for every one great novel or film like those I previously mentioned, there are seemingly a hundred more pieces of crap right on their heels, flooding the market, trying to cash in. I recently had the pleasure to read a new zombie novel by a then unknown author to me, Joseph Souza. The novel is the first book in a planned trilogy called The Reawakening. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, but I do my best to give everything a fair shake. I was completely caught off guard by this novel, it caught me in its cold, rotting grip and never let go!
The story is told through the eyes of Thomas Swiftley, a famous novelist who is travelling with his teenage daughter, Dar from Boston up to his brother’s farm in rural Maine to get away for the weekend. Dar is dealing with depression, trying to cope the best she can. Thomas thinks a weekend away from the city on his brother’s farm will do her some good. Leaving his wife and son behind in Boston, Thomas hopes to reconnect with Dar as she is becoming more distant by the day.
Rick Swiftley was a genetic scientist, renowned in his field until one day he mysteriously quits his job, telling nobody why, suddenly buying a farm and moving out to the country. Rick and his wife Susan now raise livestock and pigs, farming the land as well. Thomas has always questioned why his brother suddenly gave up his scientific career, but Rick has never talked about it. Thomas and Rick have always been at odds with one another, each jealous of the other. Thomas is jealous of his brother’s academic achievements and Rick is jealous of Tom’s literary success.
Soon after arriving at his brother’s farm, Thomas and Dar notice the animals acting strangely, becoming very aggressive and violent, and attacking anyone that gets close. Rick believes it could be rabies or even worse, some form of mad cow disease. Deciding to contain the situation before things get out of hand, Rick has to put down his entire herd of cows. Soon afterwards to their horror, the group is shocked to learn that the cows have seemingly come back to life and have a hunger for more than grass. The situation worsens when they notice other animals exhibiting the same symptoms as they begin to attack the humans.
The deadly disease affects all animals, then as the unthinkable happens, it jumps species to humans. The surrounding community becomes affected by the unknown disease, first killing its victims, then raising them from the dead with an insatiable lust for human flesh. The disease is transferred by bite, soon spreading at a rapid rate, its victims multiplying exponentially.
Thomas, Dar and a small group of survivors become trapped in Rick’s farmhouse, trying to survive the onslaught of the undead creatures. Luckily, Rick had already fortified his farmhouse in preparation for any emergency situation, but his supplies were only for two, limiting how long a larger group can hold out. In a terrifying revelation, Thomas and Rick discover that as each victim is reawakened from death; they all seem to convey the same cryptic message warning of what is to come before they turn into the mindless, flesh-eating, living dead.
As their supplies run out, the group must decide where to go and how to survive as the world they once knew crumbles around them. Thomas discovers that his brother Rick has not halted his genetic experiments and begins to wonder if something he has done may have dire consequences for the entire world.
I was completely caught up in this story, its 350+ pages were a real page turner, I literally couldn’t put it down and finished in just a couple of days, very few novels have that effect on me. Souza has incorporated the one thing into his story that I’ve been looking for, for a long time in a zombie novel that nobody has given me, until now. I’ve always asked myself in novels and movies, why is it that only the recently dead are reanimated? There are so many graveyards and cemeteries in the world; wouldn’t it be far more frightening if those dead began to come back to life too? Well, the time is now as Souza has addressed this issue of mine in The Reawakening.
The characters are so well written and thought provoking the reader can’t help but care what happens to each and every one. Some are more likable than others; the narrative is seen through the eyes of Thomas, he is of course the one reader’s will likely relate to the most. For me though, it’s Dar that shines brighter than anyone in this narrative. Her character changes almost completely from start to finish. Dar begins the story as a depressed teenager, unsure of herself in every way, by the end of the novel; she turns into a real badass knowing exactly where her place is in this new apocalyptic world. Nothing or no one will stop her from doing what she knows has to be done. At first, I was a little put off by Dar’s newfound confidence and how she practically disowned her father, but then realized all those emotions and connections are what we’re holding her back from reaching her full potential as the group’s savior.
For fans of zombie novels, The Reawakening certainly will not disappoint. It has taken the classic “Romeroesque” zombies of old and infused them with twists and turns that will leave the reader gasping in shock. It pulls elements right out of today’s headlines, making you wonder if this could really happen. This is one book you won’t be able to put down. Souza is now on my radar and definitely one to watch, he has me salivating for the next two installments of the series. Joseph Souza has written a mind-bending tale of a zombie apocalypse and turned the sub-genre upside down with his blood-soaked tale, The Reawakening.
4 ½ out of 5 Pentagrams!
About the author:
Joseph Souza is the author of many award-winning short stories and essays, he has written crime fiction before movie into horror. The Reawakening is his debut horror novel and the first in The Reawakening trilogy. He lives near Portland, Maine with his wife and two children and enjoys running, cooking and playing golf when not writing. Joseph can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his website at www.josephsouza.com.