By Tim Lebbon
Review © 2014 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Zombie Apocalypse, Horror, Alternate Worlds, Thriller
Coldbrook is a novel from Tim Lebbon that breathes new life into the overcrowded field of zombie fiction by mixing zombies into a science fiction novel about a breakthrough allowing travel to alternate worlds. When a massive scientific undertaking succeeds in forging a passage to an alternate version of our earth, the scientists know they must be prepared for the unexpected. They soon find that not only is their success beyond their wildest dreams, it is also beyond their worst nightmares. Despite precautions, the portal to another universe allows access for a monstrous disease with capabilities well beyond anything encountered in history. With the fate of the world in the balance, a handful of people race against time in heroic efforts to stem the tide.
The popularity of zombies seems to be reaching new heights this century. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals a list of over 50 zombie related novels written in the last dozen years. Obviously, there have been plenty of poorly written attempts to jump on the bandwagon while only a handful have succeeded in providing a quality reading experience so my expectations for this novel were not high. However, the first thing I noticed was that Coldbrook clocked in at just over 500 pages which seemed to offer the potential for some real substance. Happily, Coldbrook managed to rise head and shoulders above the typical zombie novel. While it certainly won’t be classified as a great work of literature, it makes for an exciting read as it adds a fresh alternate world spin and delivers interesting characters along with fast paced action.
The three main characters include the scientist who heads up the project and two key engineers, one male and one female. They split up during the initial disaster and the novel bounces back and forth between their exploits to bring the reader three perspectives on the unfolding disaster. Vic, one of the engineers, starts off with an extremely cowardly and selfish act that magnifies the initial disaster and he spends the rest of the novel trying for redemption. Vic is a complicated person with complicated relationships that make him a sympathetic character despite his major shortcomings. However, his initial act of cowardice seems too extreme to square with his later bravery which ends up being my only real complaint with this novel.
Jonah, the brilliant lead scientist, and Holly, the scrappy female engineer, also have their own character flaws but they display plenty of heart and bravery throughout. In a moment of desperation, Holly leaps through the gateway to the alternate earth from which the terrible disease emerged. When she finds remnants of a civilization that has endured a complete zombie apocalypse, she thinks she may find answers for the threat to her world but instead finds more mysteries. She also finds that the Zombie disease is not the only threat she needs to worry about.
As the head of the project, Jonah feels a large responsibility for the plague that has been unleashed which is amplified when he starts experiencing vivid dreams and visions of zombie destruction which seem to be confirmed by reports of the actual events unfolding. Then his visions become even more bizarre when they include scenes of zombie destruction from clearly different worlds. He soon suspects that the zombie apocalypse is occurring on an unimaginable scale affecting countless worlds and perhaps all existence.
The action in this novel includes plenty of extreme violence on both large and small scales. But in addition to the action you might expect from a zombie apocalypse, there is also an intelligent plot, intriguing mysteries, and fascinating discoveries. There are also a few nice twists and surprises to keep the reader guessing throughout. The mixture of mysteries and high tension action makes this a tough novel to put down all the way through to a dark but mostly satisfying conclusion.I highly recommend Coldbrook to anyone looking for a fast paced but intelligent disaster thriller with terrific zombie action. Coldbrook has real substance to chew on which should be just as satisfying to most readers as chewing on brains is to zombies.