Lords of the Night by Thom Brannan can be described as The Lord of the Rings meets Night of the Living Dead meets The Mummy meets The Lone Ranger. I'm not saying this is a particularly good description but it nicely underscores how delightfully gonzo he's managed to make the premise. Is it as good as The Lord of the Rings? What, seriously, you're asking me that question? No! It's a pulpish horror-fantasy novel, but it's entertaining and that's whats important.
Fantasy is an underrepresented medium in the post-apocalypse genre with the majority of ways the world ends usually being attributed to disease or science gone wrong. In this respect, Lords of Night is refreshing because Thom dispenses with artificial realism to have an ancient evil mummy-god from Atlantis rise up to destroy the Earth. It's like H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones rising from ancient Hyboria.
The Lords of the Ring element is the fact this is fundamentally an ensemble travel piece. Our heroes are traveling across the ruins of the Eastern United States in order to retrieve a Maguffin which may or may not be helpful in preventing the end of the world. Much like The Lord of the Rings, the cast consists of numerous badass warriors and one rather Hobbit-ish teenager. Also like The Lord of the Rings, it is the teenager who will determine the future of the world.
I'm not a real big fan of messiah-orientated fiction where there's one person in all the world who can save everyone due to being the Chosen One. Sometimes it's possible to pull this off well like The Matrix or Buffy the Vampire Slayer but other times just feels like the good guys are being handed a free win. Jack mostly manages to subvert this trap as Thom goes in some unexpected places with the expectation of being a hero.
For one, his Chosen One status causes disrust and dissension amongst the heroes as opposed to instilling hope. Likewise, the book hints Jack may only be the Chosen One as part of a larger plot by the Ancient Enemy. Jack is also reasonably likable, especially at the start, where we find out he's the kind of geeky kid many of us were around their teenage years. Might the story have been improved with less of Jack's awesome powers? Perhaps, but the story is focused on his hero's journey and I am not inclined to tell other authors how to write their characters.
Anywho, my favorite characters are actually supporting members of the cast. Hands down, the one I loved most is the Ranger. A former American soldier gone completely delusional (or has he?), he's adopted the identity of the Lone Ranger to deal with the Apocalypse. The utterly absurd nature of his belief crossed with the fact he's one of the more competent heroes makes him an endless source of entertainment. I'm also especially fond of the Renegade, a character whose story would be spoiling were I to explain it.
The flashbacks to the apocalypse are my favorite part of the book, detailing how each character ended up surviving the end of the world to get to the point they have. It's sort of like Lost, if you can accept me adding yet another analogy to the already eclectic mix I've described. I could easily see something like this adapted to the big screen for these alone.
There are some elements I felt could have been expanded on better. For example, there's only about three female characters in the entire book with one of them the hero's mother and another his love interest. This is less of a flaw than it might have been due to the fact the cast is surprisingly small. We spend the vast majority of the book traveling with our protagonists and don't get a chance to meet many more characters. Still, I would have enjoyed a few more females to round out the cast.
Another flaw is I felt things occasionally relied on Jack too much. Jack as the only psychic in the group is pretty much forced to fight most of the group's battles for them. I would have appreciated seeing the Muggles (for lack of a better term) in the group get to do more than fight the main villains' hordes of undead.
Despite this, the heroes all get to display action-based heroism. The book contain countless action sequences as our protagonists are constantly imperiled by their hostile surroundings. The Eastern Seaboard has been transformed into a combination of Mordor and zombie-ridden hellhole so it's not like our heroes can pause for rest. Thom Brannan manages to keep the tension riding high through most of these encounters, despite the fact Jack's power consistently grows throughout the novel.
Overall, my thoughts on the book can be summarized as a very good fantasy novel. The story is self-contained but there's definitely room for a sequel without it being tacked on. Indeed, the fact it's only a single novel is to the book's deterrent. I could have easily read an entire trilogy about the same plot line without feeling the story was being padded. If you feel like you could have read more about a series, that's usually a good sign.
I'm going to overlook the flaws in the book to give it a full ten because I am pleased about the fact it's a fantasy post-apocalypse novel (there aren't many of those set on Earth) and the story occasionally goes in unexpected directions. It's not a particularly deep novel but it's got great action, memorable characters, and boo-hiss villains.
So kudos to the author.