Most of us have read a zombie story or two: some good, some bad, and others that made us wretch. We hear the word "zombie" and immediately think of the slow shambling dead of Romero's films. Many of these stories are clichéd and spin tired stories with typical plots, with typical characters, and with predictable endings. Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines by D.L Snell is not one of those stories.
Roses of Blood brings together two of the more popular monsters in horror fiction today: Zombies and vampires. The story follows Shade (the vampire queen and daughter of the slain king), General Frost who is cold as his name would suggest, and Ann a human blood doll left deranged by the horror she has experienced. Shade fights to honor her fathers Kingdom (The City of Roses), while Frost pushes for relocation to the island to avoid the zombie hordes. Ann simply wants to survive, be free, and save her breeding slave sister. As the vampires attempt to fight off the zombies and keep there blood cattle (the humans) alive- betrayal, tragedy, and all-out fight for survival takes place.
The zombies in roses of blood are not your typical Romero style shamblers; they are the result of Nazi experiments. Instead of a virus, which is the common mode in zombie fiction these days, Snell's zombies are powered by parasitic creatures that infect the brains of their hosts. The parasites, tentacled Cthulhu like creatures, have appendages growing from the head of the bodies they invade. The zombies learn and adapt unlike most zombies and that makes them scarier.
Snell's vampires are akin to the vampires in Underworld, with amped up libido, one hell of a mean streak, and downright evil nature. They can be killed by wood spike or sunlight, but regenerate from most other injuries. Largely, the vampires are cruel and cold beings.
Humans are cattle used solely for their blood. Some are taken for breeding purposes and have their limbs amputated and are given a lobotomy. The Torsos, as they are called, are then placed in harness swings where they are breed. The non-breeding humans are used for feeding and repeatedly bitten and drained, but not to the point of death. The humans seem to have been dominated to the point of despair and have become docile pets of the vampires.
The novel takes place in "The City of Roses" which has been complete overrun with zombies leaving their fortified building as the only isle of safety. Snell does a great job weaving description of the setting in without being blatant, but instead by implication. I truly felt the sense of dread and hopelessness that is the existence of few remaining humans and vampires.
Roses of Blood's plot certainly hooked me and the action kept me on my toes. Gun-fu is the order of the day for the pistol, M-16, and Uzi toting vampires and the action scenes are excellently described. The pulse pounding action starts early and powers all the way through the novel. Fear not, if you are looking for character exploration and development, Snell wedged some of that in there as well.
It's hard to find a true weak spot in the novel because Roses of Blood is great example of a subgenre novel. However, I do have an issue with Snell's style. He describes it as a more poetic style ,and I can appreciated what he was trying to do, but in the end it just came off as a little overly metaphoric. The overuse of metaphors at times makes reading difficult and keeping track of what's going on a chore. It's not all bad though because, even if overused, the metaphors did add vivid images throughout the novel. The other minor complaint I have is that gratuitous sex in the novel is a bit off putting. I'm not against sex scenes in novels if they serve a purpose, but I could not find enough purpose to warrant the amount of sex represented. Indeed, Roses of Blood comes out swinging with a savage right hook of the erotic. If the erotic scenes in the beginning don't destroy your interest you should find the rest of the book quite enjoyable. After the first few chapters the sex tones down and the story gets back on the rails. I will admit that someone more into erotica will likely enjoy the same scenes that I found to be gratuitous.
Roses of Blood is a great new addition to the zombie and vampire subgenres. It's clear that this book should be an adult's only type of book with its absolute bestial, brutal nature and vivid sexual content. I can recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an excellent horror novel where zombies and/or vampires are not used in their traditional roles. Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines is a hard charging action packed book where the cruel and unusual are the norm: I liked it!