BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In an underground facility among the Appalachians, a door has been opened into another world, but now something has come through that threatens the very existence of our world.
PROS: Interesting characters, solid story, lots of zombie action with a big twist.
CONS: Quite a few dream/vision sequences that pulled me out of the narrative a bit.
BOTTOM LINE: This is not your momma’s zombie book. Coldbrook is an intelligent thriller that offers much more than flesh eaters on the prowl.
Jonah Jones is the senior member of a team working out of a facility called Coldbrook, deep underground in the Appalachians, in North Carolina. It’s named after Bill Coldbrook, the man with the vision that started it all, but who eventually committed suicide. However, they’ve finally been successful in their mission, and Jonah thinks of Bill as he’s contemplating the wonder that they’ve achieved. They’ve opened a breach, or a window, into another Earth, operating on the idea of the multiverse. The team has yet to send anyone in but have been able to glimpse things with cameras; insect life and plant life that they’ve never seen before. Holly Wright’s job was to set up a safety barrier that would prevent anything living from coming through to their Earth from the alternate universe, and she’s spent the last three years doing just that. In fact, she’s more than confident that nothing can get through her barrier, but on this day something does, and it brings with it a virus that can wipe out the human race. Coldbrook should have been able to contain it, but engineer Vic Pearson only has one thing on his mind when chaos hits the facility, and that’s to get home to his family, even if it means destroying the safeguards that have been implemented in case of such an occurrence. Meanwhile, the virus spreads throughout Coldbrook, turning everyone in its wake into creatures with only one goal: to infect as many as possible. Jonah finds himself locked out of Control, and Holly’s only option is to go through the breach into the same place that the disease carrying monster came from, the place that she has named Gaia.
In Knoxville, just as the infection is started to spread across the U.S., Jayne Woodhams and her boyfriend Tommy, sweethearts since childhood, are greeting the day and Jayne is greeting the horrible pain that seizes her joints and muscles daily. Hours are spent massaging the pain away, with Tommy’s help, and Jayne has to find it within herself to make it through another day. When we’re introduced to Jayne, it’s immediately apparent that she’ll be very important, and indeed, she is. In fact, she may hold the key to the survival of mankind, if she can survive herself.
The narrative of COLDBROOK covers about ten days and multiple viewpoints: Holly and her experiences in Gaia, Jayne’s fight for survival, and Vic’s attempt to keep his family safe and do everything he can to make up for betraying his team. Luckily, with Jonah ensconced in the facility, he’s able to communicate with Vic on the outside, and direct him to some people who might be able to help. Unfortunately, a dark presence is stalking Jonah, and has been for some time, and it seems to be sending him horrifying visions of different Earths; some beautiful, some very alien.
The virus is spreading very, very fast, and soon cities are burning and chaos reigns. Par for the course in a zombie story, right? COLDBROOK does have many of the elements that make a zombie book great, but a very unusual twist that elevates it way above the usual fare. Yes, there are plenty of exciting and terrifying battles with the infected, and these aren’t slow shamblers, either. They’re fast, vicious, and very determined. They don’t feed on people, they just bite, and their only goal is to spread the disease as quickly as possible. Transformation is immediate. In the midst of all of this is Jonah’s experience with the being that seems to be able to pop in and out of existence at will, and as a result, he never feels safe, and if you think the zombies are creepy, this guy sounds like something out of a Bosch painting. I mentioned as a con that the dream sequences served to pull me out of the narrative at times, but I have to clarify that they do have a purpose, and they’re also some of the creepiest sequences in a book filled with creepy stuff.
Tim Lebbon, in COLDBROOK, has created a terrific zombie story with a fascinating twist, with very human characters, and he’s not afraid to slip very poignant moments among the copious action and nearly unrelenting terror. COLDBROOK is like an awesome lovechild of Stargate and Robert McCammon’s SWAN SONG, with maybe a little dash of 28 Days Later thrown in, but while it reminded me of those films (and book), it’s a distinct, unique, and absorbing work unto itself, one the author can be very, very proud of. Horror fans, thriller fans, and even those of you who love those terrifying books about hot zones and disease hunters will find much to love about this book.