Prolific genre writer Joseph Nassise brings the determined and resourceful Major “Madman” Burke back for more pulse-pounding, white-knuckling, military/horror action in “On Her Majesty’s Behalf,” Book 2 in The Great Undead War series.
The novel is available for pre-order in both paperback (HarperCollins Publishers) and Kindle editions, and will be released December 2, 2014.
The thriller takes place in a Steampunk-inspired, war-torn Europe during WWI. The Germans have developed a horrific poison gas that reanimates the dead, transforming them into slow, ravenous zombies called “shamblers.”
Things got a lot worse at the end of the first book, “By the Blood of Heroes,” when a refined corpse gas was released during the bombing of London. The city is now in ruins and infested with roaming bands of faster, smarter, more lethal zombie “shredders.”
A week after the fall of London, Burke and his squad are ordered to infiltrate the ruined city by submarine and extract high-profile survivors. Naturally, things go wrong at every turn, requiring quick thinking, extreme violence and the occasional sacrifice. As the complications and challenges mount and the rescue team suffers losses, Burke must face an even more dangerous enemy, with a heart-wrenchingly familiar face.
The action is non-stop, and there are plenty of cool Steampunk references, involving clockwork mechanisms, quirky weapons and devices, mad scientists, and more.
The reader is treated to a tour of London, albeit now a wasteland, with major scenes occurring at Buckingham Palace, Bedlam Hospital, the British Museum, Tower of London, Kensington Park, and more. Nassise’s descriptions are terse but helpful, giving the reader the lay of the land, and setting up action sequences.
There’s a lot of stealth and fleeing involved, but when his back is against the wall, no one can deliver shock and awe like Major “Madman” Burke, who favors using a Thompson Submachine Gun with a drum magazine.
Other than a couple of notable exceptions, Burke’s squad is mostly forgettable and the losses by attrition are felt primarily as a reduction in crucial firepower. Each is given an ethnic identity and a skill, much like figures in a board or video game. Nevertheless, they stay in the background, for the most part. The “mechanical genius” is reduced to picking locks, and the linguist discovers that shredders just aren’t speaking his, or anyone else’s language. The reader identifies with Burke, all the way.
Several of the supporting characters are well developed, however. Burke’s fighter pilot half brother makes a welcome appearance, and the ruthless undead Baron von Richthofen has a few scenes. Burke’s trench buddy Charlie returns as well, but not in a good way. There’s also a spunky young, trouser-wearing woman to rescue.
There is one scene that is glaringly absent, involving the aftermath of a siege under the British Museum. The consequences of that encounter are best NOT left to the imagination. There’s also a MacGuffin subplot involving the retrieval of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone that seems superfluous.
Even so, the suspense and action, which is the whole point of the series, are non-stop. Burke is continuously surrounded and outnumbered by superior enemy forces. The relentless and remorseless shredders, numbering in the thousands, are faster, stronger, feel no pain or fatigue, and possess more acute senses than the living. Also, they hunt in packs. There are a few late-arriving Nazi-like undead super soldiers, but they don’t seem to be much deadlier than the shredders, except that they are capable of shooting guns and following orders.
At times I felt like I was playing a game like Castle Wolfenstein, moving through various levels and locations, mowing down a horde of hostile enemies, and leading up to the inevitable showdown with the boss.
“On Her Majesty’s Behalf” takes the Great Undead War out of the trenches and into new and hostile territory.
This is a worthy and fully entertaining follow up to the first book, and sets the stage for Book 3.