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King of the Dead (Book Review)

It’s grand to read a sequel that doesn’t hinge on the presumption of readers’ familiarity with book it’s following up. Kudos to Joseph Nassise; King of the Dead, his excellent recapitulation of its precursor, Eyes to See, makes it easy for a newcomer to access events and characters, and feel comfortable with the continuity. It’s the emphasis on characterization that makes both books highly readable. King of the Dead‘s scenario may get sporadically loopy, but the central figures of the narrative are so well fleshed out that any plot issues soon get forgotten or forgiven.

Though endowed with powers, protagonist Jeremiah Hunt is a conflicted being. Technically blind, he is a seer who possesses visual perception of arcane entities. On the lam from the law with two other mystically empowered cohorts, he journeys in their company to New Orleans. The comely Denise Clearwater comprises one-third of the traveling trio, and it’s at her adamant behest that they go to The Big Easy. Denise has visions that lure her, Jeremiah, and their companion Dmitri, into great peril. The element of danger fires the pre-existing sexual tension between Hunt and Clearwater. This intensity is offset by the comic relief provided courtesy of Dmitri, a berserker who can assume the shape of a gigantic polar bear. Dmitri’s were-bear transformations are a source of humor throughout the story; when cornered and seemingly unable to escape, there’s nothing like transforming into an enormous ursine creature to change the dynamic.

Combating an evil that holds the city under a supernatural siege, Jeremiah comprehends the complexity of his situation: “Facing off against angry ghosts and rampaging doppelgangers was one thing, but staring at a room full of people who will never wake up from their comas because their souls have been violently torn away was something else.”

The incarnation of The Grim Reaper has come to town, and is stealing souls for his nefarious plans. His servants, known as “The Sorrows” comprise a most unattractive group. One is thus described by Hunt: “There was no mistaking the circular maw that served as a mouth, nor the fact the interior was lined with multiple rows of teeth, all bent inward at a slight angle, designed, I guessed, to pull its prey into its mouth one bite at a time. Its eyes, open and staring at the ceiling above, were pupil-less black orbs that jutted out a good inch from the narrow skull like a fish.”

Not neglecting the setting and its socio-economic relevance, Nassise has King of the Dead delve into the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: “With the lake on one side and the river on the other, New Orleans had always been flavored with the smell of dirty water and rotting vegetation, but since Katrina a stench pervaded everything, soaked deep into the wood and stone, a constant reminder of how close the city had come to drowning.”

Like New Orleans, principal personages in King of the Dead are in a precarious place. It’s not surprising then, that the novel ends on a cliffhanger. Thus far, Joseph Nassise has taken the reader on a riveting ride. The author engages with interesting imagery and intriguing characters, promising much for his next installment. Hopefully, it will be a fulfilling follow-up.

– By Sheila M. Merritt

About Sheila M. Merritt

Sheila Merritt wrote book reviews for Mystery Scene Magazine. Currently she writes essays for Scream Magazine. For several years, she had contributed reviews, articles and conducted interviews for the Hellnotes.com newsletter. She was friends with a British ghost hunter who happened to be the author of a biography of Boris Karloff. She’s had a brief and embarrassing conversation with Christopher Lee in a department store, but also had a much more relaxing exchange with director-writer Frank Darabont at a horror convention. She became enamored of horror films and dark fiction as a child. Mother didn't approve of them. The rest, as they say, is history.

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