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I am a graduate of St John's College, Annapolis (1988), Harvard Divinity School (1990), and the University of Notre Dame (1995). I work at Iona College. I am married with two wonderful children. I am blessed to be able to write about the things that interest me and share my ideas with others.
Despite talks (within the genre) of zombies being just about "as played out" as vampires, there seems to be a fresh take on them nearly every month . . . but few have been as interesting (or intelligent) as Kim Paffenroth's VALLEY OF THE DEAD, which takes its cue from visions seen in Dante's INFERNO and imagines what he went through during his 17-year exile from Italy (a timeline of his life is provided for us mere mortals!).
The author's prologue itself is worth the cover price and dared me (and will dare any zombie fanatic) to keep reading long into the night.
Besides the uber-cool setup, Paffenroth's writing style here differs from his "Dying to Live" series, and the whole tone of the story seems (at times) like you're reading a lost account of a historical reality. The various characters he encounters (and befriends) along his journey seem quite real, and in their conversations (especially in Chapter 20) we learn nifty bits and pieces about Dante's past (hmmm---seems Dr. Kim set out not only to give his readers the willies, but 'learn 'em a bit, too).
While I truly enjoyed this, I'm not sure how many fans of the standard "shoot-'em-up/gut-munch" zombie tale will; but if you allow yourself to enter Paffenroth's speculative vision with no pre-conceptions, you might find it a hard place to want to leave.
There are two main things you need to know about Kim Paffenroth's VALLEY OF THE DEAD. It's about zombies. And the book is based on Dante's `Inferno' from his classic poem The Divine Comedy. That's a serious mix of horror gore and incredible intelligence. I doubt very few writers could pull this combo off. But having met and chatted in depth with Mr. Paffenroth, I can also say that I'm not surprised that he nailed it.
With this novel, Paffenroth writes as if it's actual history. He follows Dante during one of the most depressing times of his life, his exile from his native city of Florence, Italy. Not much is known of Dante's life during this period but Paffenroth is more than happy to fill in those blank spots- with a zombie plague that has overrun the lands. And in doing so, his fictional story explains in a very matter-of-fact manner how Dante came upon his inspiration for his greatest and best known piece of work.
Told through Dante's eyes and words, he travels in search of some land that hasn't been overrun by the zombie plague. Along the way he joins a few companions- a soldier, a monk, and a pregnant peasant girl- who he forms unique bonds with as they journey literally through different levels of hell to a `safe' destination they're not sure even exists.
Where Paffenroth makes a brilliant choice is in having the living humans be the real horror. Oh yes, there are zombies all over the countryside, in the woods, the mountains and villages. You never know when they will attack and Paffenroth keeps the tension built throughout like a constant heartbeat. But it's in meeting the people who have survived the plague that offer the greatest threats.
Each chapter almost comes off as its own parable or tale.Read more ›
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The Divine Comedy by Italian poet Dante Alighieri is, arguably, one of the most studied and celebrated poems of all time. Religious scholars have spent centuries analyzing it for its theological content. Students of literature have sung praises for its prose for just long. On a personal level, Inferno (the volume of The Divine Comedy that deals with Hell) is one of the main things that sparked my dark interest in all things horror. The rhythm of the lines and the utterly macabre subject matter teamed with the violent yet beautiful imagery and I was hooked instantly. Now years later I've just finished Kim Paffenroth's Valley of the Dead, which is his fictional account of the years Dante spent in exile from his native city of Florence, and old horror is fresh again. He explains his influence, ideas, and drive for Valley of the Dead in his prologue. I read the entire book and thoroughly enjoyed it but I have to admit it only really took me the three page prologue to know I was gonna dig this ride. In this account Dante enters a foreboding valley and is instantly drawn into an unholy adventure as both the dead and an army sent to destroy them ravages the first village Dante comes across. Dante, a man steeped in tradition and customs from his native land, saves the life of a pregnant peasant girl and together they flee the doomed town as the dead feast on its citizens and the army burns its buildings to the ground. The odd duo ride to the next town to warn of the dead and the approaching army but arrive to find the town swept up in frenzy against a supposed witch. One lone soldier, a deserter from the calloused and cruel army, stands against the crazed town folk. Again the walking dead appear and fire burns and Dante has another companion.Read more ›
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Dante Alighieri spent seventeen years of his life in exile from his home in Italy. Scholars do not know where he was or what he did, other than spend that time writing his masterpiece THE DIVINE COMEDY. His most famous part of that epic poem is The Inferno in which Dante paints a truly frightening vision of Hell. VALLEY OF THE DEAD is the account of what Dante experienced that brought him to write Inferno. Travelling through an Eastern European valley with a woman, a soldier, and a monk, Dante eluded and battled the living dead. He was so horrified by what he witnessed and experienced that he turned it into a fantastic fictional account after his escape from the valley. First off, you do not have to have read The Inferno to read VALLEY OF THE DEAD. Now, to say I liked this novel would be an understatement. I loved it! Kim Paffenroth has done an amazing job translating the events of The Inferno into a novel speculating on the whereabouts of Dante. The main characters, Dante, Bogdana, Radovan, and Adam are very real without too much time having to be spent on development. The secondary characters we meet along the way are much like people you'd find in any crisis taking place. You will either be able to relate to, or at least recognize them. There is definitely a theological question here....aren't zombies also creatures of God? At times you will feel sorry for them, wonder if they feel pain or not and almost come to understand the zombies and their actions while being repulsed at the actions of the people throughout the story. The zombies have no choice but to succumb to their appetites, but what about man? I highly recommend VALLEY OF THE DEAD and I guarantee you it will pique your interest in reading or re-reading Dante's Inferno; I myself will be re-reading it.
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