Brother Stephen is a young and talented artist who has become a monk in the year 717 A.D. in order to lead a simple life and to do what he loves best – paint Christian icons. Due to a shortage of iconographers and the recent change in emperors, Brother Stephen is sent from his home monastery on Mt. Olympus to the famous St. Stoudious Monastery in Constantinople. Along the way, he is accompanied by an aging monk named Theophilus who speaks very little but implies quite a lot with his actions.
Eventually, the two monks make their way to a small inn, where they and a few townspeople must hold off a hoard of “the walking dead,” creatures that have recently sprung up and plagued the countryside.
During the initial encounter with these ghouls, the monks use pitchforks, shovels and cleavers to hold off the flesh-eating monsters, which can only be destroyed when their heads are chopped off. After barely surviving the attack, the two monks and a new friend, a soldier named Michael Camytzes, make their way to Constantinople to continue their business and inform the emperor of this bizarre new threat to the empire. The friends learned during the fight that any individual who is bitten becomes a zombie after he dies.
Unfortunately, the emperor, distracted by Saracens who are at the walls of Constantinople, initially pays no mind to what he considers ridiculous stories of flesh-eating ghouls. But after another zombie outbreak inside what were considered the capital’s impenetrable walls, the emperor takes the reports more seriously.
He hatches a reckless scheme in hopes of repelling both the zombie invasion and riding himself of the 80,000 Saracen fighters camped outside the city walls. Sean Munger uses vivid detail to recreate Constantinople’s beauty and help readers imagine what life there was like in the eighth century.
He provides detailed descriptions of the buildings and the occupations of the residents of Constantinople. It is hard to believe how opulent life in the palace was compared to the arduous tasks such as tanning hides that the monks performed on a daily basis.
The characters, brought to life by the author, add to this entertaining read.
Brother Stephen is a sarcastic and clever individual who is constantly being asked to do dangerous and devious things he wants no part of. True to his calling, he is also a caring and considerate individual, one readers care for.
“Zombies of Byzantium” is a fast-paced adventure that rarely lows down to allow its characters or readers to catch their breath.
The story moves quickly from the first chapter with plot twists that are both plausible yet unnerving. The detail and gore of the battle scenes bring to mind “The Iliad.”
For readers who find zombies in the Byzantine Empire a bit too hard to believe, author has come up with a plausible explanation for what ultimately happened to them. Additionally, in a note to readers, Munger discusses the actual people on whom he based his lead characters and shows how their lives fit directly into his story.
Readers who enjoy action-adventure novels in historical settings, as well as those who are into zombies, will like “Zombies of Byzantium.”
Preston Braun is finishing his master’s degree in education and is a Manhattan resident.