Are you a horror fan looking for something different to shake up your reading list? Do you love historical fiction but you’re tired of the same old books that only focus on Tudors, Anglo-Saxons, and knights? Kelly Evans might have just what you’re looking for in her latest novel, The Mortecarni, a medieval zombie mash up set around the time of the Black Death.
While there have been Regency and Victorian Period books tied into the history-meet-zombie theme, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, it’s interesting to read a medieval take on the genre, and it’s also nice to read a horror novel that doesn’t rely on werewolves, vampires, or love triangles to carry the story.
The book begins briefly in the present. We meet some archaeologists looking (Indiana Jones style) for a lost book containing information on how to combat their current zombie epidemic. They find the book, a diary which once belonged to a Welsh monk named Maurice. Back to the past to 1347/1348 and the book really begins here as Evans recounts the tale from Maurice’s perspective as a reluctant zombie hunter.
Maurice stumbles into the work inadvertently when he accidentally comes across the creatures while visiting another abbey. He gets roped into continuing zombie hunting at the behest of King Edward III (1312-1377), who knows all about zombies, and has a network of informants and hunters like Maurice battling these creatures while keeping suspicions to a minimum. Armed with his trusty, but awkward, teenage squire Hugh, Maurice travels throughout England on a donkey, village by village investigating wherever he hears of any strange goings-ons.
There isn’t much more to say about the book without spoiling it. Each zombie encounter is different, and some are naturally more interesting than others, i.e., how the zombies are discovered, what people at the time believed them to be, and how they are eventually dispatched.
The book centres on Maurice’s hunting and inner struggle with what he has been tasked to do, while providing a loose backstory about his life. Maurice is an interesting character, and one who is intensely disturbed by his side vocation. He is definitely not a typical heroic character in the sense that he doesn’t want notoriety, or takes any joy in the job. He feels a keen sadness for every creature he has to kill and it takes an emotional toll on him. He is clever, kind, and interesting in spite of his utter lack of bravado.
There is also a small backstory to Hugh to build a rapport between the two divergent characters. Hugh is a nice addition to Maurice and he offers some comfort and companionship to the monk. As for most of the other characters in the book, they are really periphery and easily fade into the background; merely chess pieces to further Maurice’s story.
The encounters read like an episode from a TV series script, where I can picture it neatly cutting away with ‘Next week on….’. I actually like this. aspect. It’s a ’trouble in the village/whodunnit’ that Maurice quickly resolves until he moves along to the next place and does it all over again. The book also reminds me of my younger days playing Dungeons & Dragons because it can read like a ‘quest’ in places with monk and squire battling evil zombie minions. It’s good fun and keeps the pace moving.
For hardcore horror fans, there is plenty of gore if that’s your thing. Evans doesn’t skimp on the gruesome – blood and guts are her game, so horror buffs won’t be disappointed.
Setting the story during the late Middle Ages and during the The Black Death was really quite clever. It made it easy to have a believable reason for not questioning zombie sightings. For one, Evans took advantage of the strong religious beliefs of the time, with the average villager assuming that a zombie was really a saint risen from the dead, or a sign of a holy blessing.
Another smart idea was to hide the zombie outbreak in the midst of the worst plague in history. The symptoms could’ve been mistaken for plague, and zombies for delirious plague victims. It also helps make excuses for any necessary zombie deaths as people who unfortunately succumbed to plague.
While I understand that it is a diary, so it’s not following a formal structure, there are too many side stories that have no real bearing on furthering the plot. Characters and asides that are not memorable enough to merit giving space on paper. These could be dispensed with in exchange for more stories about the zombies on their travels, such as a scene about passing a herd of zombies. Something really good could’ve happened there and nothing did. I wish it had.
All in all, my complaints are few, and for the most part, the book is highly entertaining and fun reading. The story didn’t keep me up at night, but then again, it’s not that kind of a supernatural horror. It had it’s scary, ‘jumpy’ and creepy moments, but it’s more in the vein of The Walking Dead meets Brother Cadfael, and I wonder if Maurice’s Welsh background is a nod to that beloved character. If you love horror and zombies, you will definitely enjoy this book. The Mortecarni fits the bill if you want to move away from the usual historical fiction that has been making the rounds for the past few years and dive into something different. Happy Reading!
About the Author
Born in Canada of Scottish extraction, Kelly graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduation Kelly moved to the UK where she worked in the nancial sector. While in London she continued her studies in history, focussing on Medieval England and the Icelandic Sagas (with a smattering of Old Norse and Old English).
Kelly now lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband Max and two rescue cats (Bear and Wolf). She still works in the nancial sector as a trade technology project manager. Her short stories have been published in numerous magazines and E-zines as well as a horror anthology, where her Fourteenth Century horror story was received with enthusiasm.
When not writing Kelly enjoys reading history books, silversmithing, playing oboe and medieval recorder, and watching really bad horror and old sci- movies. She is currently working on the second book in her Anglo-Saxon series, set in the years prior to the Norman invasion.
For more information about Kelly Evans work, please visit: kellyAevans.com