by Christopher Krovatin
Mid-Grade (Ages 9-12)
I wondered where Krovatin would take his team of young zombie hunters next, and true to form, he kicks it up a notch by landing the three team-mates in the City of the Dead. The story starts with a bang– O’Dea, their Warden, has been kidnapped by Dario Savini, an enemy who had escaped from the Isla Hambrienta!
The Council of Wardens meets with the Gravediggers, and are complete jerks who claim that the Wardens have never truly needed the services of the Gravediggers, and are so rude they anger Kendra (who “has the blood” of a Warden, so it seems,) so intensely that she accesses her special powers and trashes the conference room. (The three partners began to develop new abilities in Terror Cove.) The Council are clearly a hostile force and will offer no help in retrieving O’Dea, who is expected to take her own life rather than allow a containment breach.
The Gravediggers are left with nowhere to turn except their old “friend,” Danny Melee. Together they solve the mystery of where O’Dea has been taken, but it’s not good news. Kudus is in Malaysia, and is the last remnant of a lost civilization, a place known in whispered legends as The City of the Dead, and for good reason.
Before they leave, it becomes evident that Ian is beginning to have feelings for Kendra. To top it all off, Josephina, O’Dea’s protegee, is having visions, ominous dreams about PJ in a cave posing a great danger for him, and she predicts that something bad will happen soon. But of course, there wouldn’t be a story if we all just heeded the warnings of the local gas station attendant not to go up to the haunted mansion on the hill…
Danny flies the Gravediggers to Borneo and equips the venture, (though, sadly, Ian finds he has to run away from home in order to get there.) Once there, the trio goes spelunking and soon unearth the gateway to Kudus.
Kendra is now showing signs of having much stronger powers; even more than those of the other Gravediggers. She can see the magic of sigils carved in the walls glowing as though she were a warden, and receives visions of the lives of the dead. Her visions allow us to learn the history of the ancient fallen city that was once invaded by an evil tribe, and then then horribly cursed. It became so overrun with the undead that the entire city was collapsed by the wardens of that time to lie forgotten below the earth.
At Kudus they encounter a new type of zombie– animated corpses that have dwelled underground for hundreds of years and have evolved adaptations to the darkness! They can smell human blood (unless you smear yourself with gore) and they can crawl on the ceiling, an entire army of pale zombies with fungus growing out of their spines on all sides! Remember that the fungus is what makes the zombie in Krovatin’s series– the body exists to spread the spore, and a head shot wont kill them like in the movies, these hunters must rip out or crush a zombie’s spine in order to take it out.
What they find in the sewers of the lost city is gross, spine-crushing, zombie cannibalism!
The whole blob of merged human corpses rises up around us like a garden of death, like a swelling lasagna of dead people sloshing up around us in festering waves. The basic laws of zombie nature have gone horribly wrong here, the conjoined dead deformed beyond reason– there are zombies with three arms, two torsos, four people’s worth of intestines spilling out of them. They all come pouring from the horrible pool of reanimated flesh around our feet.
Soon they find Dario’s father, a zombie, and watch Dario kill him. How cold; Dario is a ruthless Gravedigger bent on loosing the zombie population upon the world in order to teach everyone what life shared with zombies was once like, to make people appreciate the gift that is the Gravediggers. Besides unleashing the zombies from Kudus, one of his aims is also to destroy all Wardens. Gravediggers and Wardens, both sides seem to feel like there is no real need for the other.
They’ve never known what to do with us, because we have the power. Wardens need to be trained. Their blood has the potential for magic, but they need to be… whittled out of a person. Gravediggers are like diamonds… We have an inherent power behind us, an ability.
A skilled soldier, Dario offers at one point to help train the young gravediggers, but that is before they cross him. Dario’s father’s corpse had been holding a carven horn, what Kendra recognizes as the city’s seal. The kids nab it and run from Dario, but he soon catches up and gives PJ and Ian a beat down. Then he carries Kendra away. Eventually, the boys find O’Dea, who is upset that they came down into the tunnels and risked turning the tides of the magical containment. They were supposed to let her kill herself in order to protect the world. She had been kidnapped because in order to overcome the seal, Dario needs a Warden’s powers. Without O’Dea there should be no problem. Except he does have a Warden now. Kendra.
The team terrifyingly discovers the very source of the zombie contagion in Kudus and confronts it head on! Krovatin outdoes himself creating a horror at the center of it all that can viably threaten humanity itself, the raging spores of undead infection that may sweep the face of the planet. Not only will the Gravediggers have to defeat Dario the professional mercenary, but the fungal death itself… and then make it back to the surface alive to face the Council of Wardens.
Even better than the first two books in this series, the cover art on this edition is sweet! It promises darkness, terror, and zombie hordes, and Krovatin’s story delivers! There is no way to fully describe in words the alien flavor of ancient Southeast Asian architecture, so for a taste of what Kudus may have looked like, here are pictures of similar lost cities nearby. Wait a minute… could this sunken zombie-holocaust site be real?
Just as the feelings between Ian and Kendra are beginning to simmer and the tensions between the Gravediggers and Wardens are coming to a head, the Gravediggers Trilogy comes to an end! I am holding out hope that the story will continue in a new format. Necessarily a new format, because the ending of this adventure leaves the makeup of the Gravediggers fundamentally altered, and the characters forever changed.
INTERVIEW with Christopher Krovatin
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Gravediggers: Mountain of Bones
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