Gravediggers: Terror Cove
by Christopher Krovatin
Kendra, Ian, and PJ are back in their Gravedigger glory as they take on an entire island of the undead. Cursed land tracing back to the shipwreck of The Alabaster and before has Warden Jeniveve and her protégé Josefina maintaining the zombie populace when the three investigators show up.
This is the second book in the Gravediggers series, preceded by Mountain of Bones, but you can catch up the backstory easily. Since the dawn of man, there has been a symbiotic relationship between Wardens, who learn magic to bind and control the unrest caused by evil deeds and death on a massive scale, and the Gravediggers, who are born with both the power to communicate with animals and the innate knowledge of how to put down any zombie menace.
The kids and their mentor Warden O’dea win a trip to Puerto Rico, and circumstances arrange themselves so that the group finds their way out to Isla Hambrienta just as a propelled rocket takes out the zemi buoy, a seal that is holding back a wave of the undead. Is the orchestration of events due to the Gravediggers special abilities to find themselves where they need to be, or is someone guiding them right where he wants them to be?
The first chapter is pretty slow. But this is forgivable, because the rest of the book is one long action sequence of jungle adventure, zombie hordes, mad science, para-military weaponry, and voodoo.
After the magical seal is blown to smithereens and O’dea is lost at sea, the Gravediggers become lost on zombie island (does that sound like a Scooby-Doo movie?) The bigger problem is that Ian, the jock, the tough-guy –who has never seen actual zombie combat– finds himself freezing up when confronted by the re-animated tourist corpses from the shipwreck. To top it off, all of the sigils that contain the undead below the waters of the cove have been defaced. (There is a silly scene where monkeys save them from certain doom, but I will just pretend that it didn’t really happen.)
They find their way to a compound built by boy-millionaire Danny Melee, creator of Total Wateland, Blood Bucket and the Diabolicum series of video games. He schmoozes Kendra with his nerdy research, but the boys begin to notice holes in his story. The research Danny is doing for a new game is a bit over-the-top given all the military-type security and top-level scientists. But I mean, he couldn’t possibly be planning to create a LARPS-style first-person shooter by infecting a limited population of the world, right?
There’s a click, and the needle jabs into his neck and plunges its contents into him. He convulses hard… and then his head falls forward and he lets out a long, wheezing breath.
After a few seconds, Ms. Redfield announces, “Subject One is deceased.”
We learn a bit more about the mythology of Krovatin’s world in this installment of the Gravediggers series. The infection here (what is in other zombie pantheons called the Solanum infection or T-virus or the Rage virus,) is actually caused by a fungal infestation concentrated in the spinal column. Unlike movie zombies, these infected cannot be killed by a head-shot, and they ooze black filth rather than splatter blood. In a zombie book like this one, plausible originality is worth the whole ride. Krovatin covers new ground while staying firmly planted in the genre and keeping the gore and violence to a minimum, a feat of no small skill given the abundance of material in the bookstores.
There is, of course, an “accident” in the compound, and Jeniveve’s drums must protect the Gravediggers as Josephina helps them learn how to control a Gravedigger skill akin to “the Avatar state” and restore the protections to the island.
At the end, unexpected numbers of the re-animated create a massive pile-up like that seen in World War Z, only under water. Water zombies are the scariest, because you, the living, can’t move as fast in the water. The zombies have you at a disadvantage because they can stay under indefinitely and they can surprise you out of the darkened murk below and drag you screaming to your doom.
I have begun to wonder if it is not just the dwellers of this inky environment that are so jarring to us, but the environment itself. Perhaps it is not the fear that these creatures may confront you, but that they will drag you deep into a place so unlike the human world, somewhere suffocating and quiet and crawling with other beings that appear built by a twisted madman.
For parents and librarians looking for recommendations, this book is for the kids who love zombies but not the over-the-top gore-fest that is stock-in-trade of modern living-dead mythology. It is original and filled with action so reluctant readers won’t get bored. Kids who like this will graduate to Shan’s Zom-B series and Maberry’s Rot and Ruin books. Those who are already there will still enjoy Krovatin’s style as he brings the voodoo back into zombie lore.