Unlike the spliced-together novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Valley of the Dead is an original story inspired by Dante’s Inferno (the first volume of The Divine Comedy). Kim Paffenroth, a professor of Religious Studies, best known for his zombie series Dying to Live (third installment coming out in October 2010) and Orpheus and the Pearl, explains in his prologue how he came to the realization that Dante must have actually seen the horrors described in Inferno. Paffenroth presents us with the story of how Dante survived a zombie plague, revealing the lessons that he learned while Dante was in exile.
One of the most disturbing characteristics of this novel is that the zombies are absolutely not frightening compared to what the living do to one another. I would go so far as to say some of the human survivors lost their souls long before the plague caught up with them. It is interesting to note that even back in history the army was of no help to the villagers, and made matters worse.
If you have read any of Paffenroth’s work with Permuted Press, don’t expect any similarities. The zombies are different; in one instance, some zombies completely disregard Dante’s group because they’ve recently made a fresh kill — one of them looks right at Dante, and goes back to feeding without giving chase. The writing style is also different; it’s reminiscent of great classical literature, and it’s the key to tying so many different genres together into one novel. It is a shame that this novel will most likely be labeled horror fiction without a second thought. If there was ever a zombie story worthy of literary acclaim, it would be Valley of the Dead.
Unfortunately, the best zombie novels are the ones that rarely make it into the mainstream view.