“Strangers in the Land” is part of author Stant Litore’s “The Zombie Bible” series. The series (which also includes “What Our Eyes Have Witnessed” and “Death Has Come Up into Our Windows”) describes zombie outbreaks in Biblical times, placing the scourge of the undead in the land of milk and honey among God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Whether or not you’re well-versed in Biblical lore, each novel in the series makes for a fascinating twist on ancient history.
Like all good zombie books, “Strangers in the Land” is not really about zombies. Rather, it’s about people. In this case, the people are the People, the Hebrews of the Holy Land in Biblical times (some time after the exodus from Egypt).
Litore’s research into ancient Israelite customs and history must have been exhaustive, as he paints an incredibly vivid, detailed picture of life among the monotheistic desert nomads. Because this is such a distant and unfamiliar time period, the book almost smacks of science fiction rather than historical fiction, the world-building is that complete. Needless to say, it is easy to get sucked into the world of Israel’s navi and her visions sent from God.
Combining Biblical history with zombies is less of a leap of faith than you’d expect. The two subjects meld rather seamlessly and the combination makes a frightening amount of sense. All of those sacred laws the ancient Israelites had about being “unclean” and keeping to very specific hygienic and funereal practices? Turns out all were put in place because the Hebrews were under siege by zombies. “Unclean” in the world of “The Zombie Bible” becomes a synonym for “undead.”
All of this makes for a story that is as original as it is exciting. “Strangers in the Land” follows Devora, the navi and judge of Israel, who sees what God sees. Devora’s visions from God allow her to mete out justice to the people, and to direct them in their fight against the undead hordes coming down from the Galilee. Together with Zadok, her nazarite bodyguard (basically ancient Israel’s Special Forces); Hurriya, a young Canaanite girl who lost her baby to the undead scourge; and Barak, the war leader of the tribes, Devora must find a way to contain the zombie outbreak and keep the uncleanliness from spreading to the People.
Litore is to be commended for his prose in “Strangers in the Land.” Not only is it captivating and well-researched, but the third-person limited viewpoint of Devora is incredible. Despite not being a middle-aged ancient Hebrew woman, let alone a messenger of God with some serious sword skills, Litore narrates Devora’s thoughts with a sensitivity and realism that is, frankly, rarely found in male horror authors. No shrinking violet, Devora is a strong leader and fearless in her devotion to duty. She’s a character you won’t soon be forgetting.
My one complaint is that the later chapters become almost repetitively violent. Nothing much happens except various characters getting bogged down in fighting the undead and having narrow escapes, over and over again. It’s a lot of action, without a lot actually happening. While action is good in fiction, the fact that it felt repetitive towards the end means that there was almost too much of it. I would’ve preferred the final chapters to pick up the pace and cut the verbiage by about half.
Beyond the rich historical background and the desperate fight for survival, “Strangers in the Land” is a story about otherness, what it means to be a “stranger.” The book deals with themes of prejudice and inequality across ethnic and gender lines. Far from being “just another zombie book,” it is a remarkably clear look at what it means to impose a system of inequality among a culture.
“Strangers in the Land” and the other books of “The Zombie Bible” are zombie novels for lovers of historical fiction. Beautifully composed and frighteningly well-researched, “Strangers in the Land” is well worth the read.
Stay informed, stay alive: Must have “Strangers in the Land” and the other books of “The Zombie Bible” series right the hell now? You’re in luck. They’re all available in paperback and Kindle edition right here.
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