Monday, 24 May 2021

Autumn: Dawn (2021) by David Moody - Zombie Horror Book Review

It all started in 2001 with the release of Autumn, a zombie book with a difference by horror author David Moody. Things seemed wrapped up in 2013 with the release of an updated version of his anthology book Autumn: The Human Condition that seemed to be a final farewell to the wonderful series. The Autumn books are not only my favourite zombie books ever written but also my favourite horror books. I have liked Moody's other works, such as the Hater series, yet they never resonated with me as much as these ones did. it helps that one of my fears is large crowds, something that the undead of these stories epitomise. In fact Moody is the only author whose work has ever been able to give me nightmares (one that took place in and around the bunker from his short story Duck and Cover). I was beyond overjoyed to learn there was to be a new trilogy set in the Autumn universe, I did not expect it at all. I admit I was also kind of nervous. Having this new book set earlier on in the apocalypse made sense, but I couldn't quite see how the setting of London would feel much different to the setting of Autumn: The City. Thankfully I turned out to be very wrong.

The premise for Autumn is that a deadly virus one day unexpectedly sweeps itself around the globe, once it is finished over 99% of the world's population lay dead, leaving behind a stunned and traumatised minority of survivors. To make things even worse the dead don't stay dead, they rise up as zombies, not the typical flesh hungry ghouls you would expect, but ones who have an intense attraction to any kind of movement or sound. Autumn: Dawn takes place around 40 days after this rapid infection occurred and takes place in London. Due to the large population there are more survivors, but that also means there are far more undead whose numbers essentially trap the living within the city.

I'm not going to lie, the first chapter of this new book I was a bit unsure with. It is written from a first person perspective which led me to worry the whole book would be written this way. I came to appreciate it more after the chapter ended and the book settled into a more traditional writing style. This first chapter felt like it would have been right at home in Autumn: The Human Condition, it was pretty much a self contained short story that worked at swiftly bringing the reader up to speed, as well as being able to zoom past the initial rising of the dead. Having the main story take place 40 days in was a good point to set it, this was when the zombies started to become more hostile to the living and there is a gradual increase in this hostility over the course of the novel.

It became clear early on that rather than a straight new entry in the Autumn series this was instead something more like a soft reboot. The first book came out in the early 2000s when the world was a different place. Either this is a straight up reimagining or a slight retcon as Dawn takes place slightly into our future. This is a world where mobile phones had become prevalent, where anti-terrorism barriers had been installed throughout London, where The Walking Dead TV show had been a thing, and one that before this catastrophic pandemic happened had recently left the coronavirus behind. Whether this takes place in the same universe as the previous books or not isn't clear, but this was far less of an issue than I thought it might feel.

I would have been happy if the story here had been a retread of what has happened before, and at times it feels kind of similar with some of the plot points. The story goes to some unexpected places, initially it seems certain the flow it would take but there are then curve balls. It comes to a point where there are essentially two different storylines going on with two different sets of characters and these were balanced enough that going back and forth remained exciting. I don't really want to get into the specifics of the story as that was part of the joy while reading this. I will say that as the first part in a trilogy it does its job well. By the books finish there seemed a clear path as to the direction the trilogy would be going in, while also leaving in a mild cliff-hanger that hints at more excitement down the line.

What set Autumn: Dawn apart most was the London setting. There are far more survivors than I am used to which was refreshing in itself. This also has the largest population of undead yet to appear. There are so many zombies packed into the city that the streets become almost a sea of corpses. The ways used to describe this amount of rotting flesh is so varied, one of my favourite descriptions was when they are referred to as something like a Lovecraftian mass. There are no end of thrilling moments with characters trapped in this sea, having to crawl around through all manner of disgusting bodily fluids to try and escape. Characters that are killed by the ghouls (hardly a spoiler that not all characters survive) are described as just disappearing, like a wave had washed over them and carried them away. There were a couple of moments in the book where I really got caught in the blind panic that characters were experiencing, it felt like I was there seeing the world through the characters eyes, I love how easy it is to picture me within the world of Autumn and it was great that this feeling is still expertly crafted in this latest novel.

For anyone who may have been concerned about what new ideas a new Autumn novel could possibly contain there is no need to worry. Heading back into this world was like putting on a favourite comfortable jumper. I loved almost every single word of this novel, it was a triumphant return to the rotting world of Autumn and I cannot wait to see where the story heads next.


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