Book #2 of the Zombie Bible Series
by Stant Litore
Publisher: Dente’s Heart (Self-Published) (December 2011)
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Horror
Source: Review Request by Author
Purchase at: Amazon
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Father Polycarp has a Gift. He can bring peace and rest to the restless dead.
At his touch, each hungering corpse lies still at last. But to do this, he must first look into each one’s blind eyes and find the remnant of the soul caught within the shambling corpse. He must witness each one’s secrets, each one’s suffering — all that each had loved and feared and regretted in their brief lives. Only then can he absolve them and set them free. Only then will they cease to walk and feed.
But Polycarp may be burned for it.
In this alternate history of second-century Rome, the lives of the early martyrs are retold as a chapter in humanity’s long struggle with hunger and with the hungry dead. This isn’t your parents’ Sunday School. It isn’t your college bible study or history class. It’s the old stories coming back, with teeth, carved open so you can see every beat of their hearts. The Zombie Bible is a lethal series that wrestles with the violence of human hunger and the power of hope. This novel is its second installment.
If I was going to write a one word review, it would be WOW. Just like the previous book, I was speechless when I finished What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. Litore once again surrounds us in a world so realistic, so horrific that you want to shield your eyes from the words that so effortlessly paint a picture of hope, despair, and hunger.
Father Polycarp has seen the withered souls of the walking dead in their sightless eyes. He knows what causes the dead to rise and devour without thought. It is the very people of Rome that curse themselves. In a time when Rome was fresh with rising power, its people appeased their dead ancestors with food while men, women, and children wasted away on the streets for circumstances beyond their control. Their dismal placement in the caste hierarchy dictates their future. A future of slavery, of hunger, and of death. But if the people of Rome could only see that it’s this very separation, their rejection of people who they consider lower than themselves that has brought the very destruction they so helplessly want to end, then maybe Rome could thrive. Polycarp sees this. His followers see this. Regina, his closest friend, follower, and insula manager sees this. But the person who could do the most good, initiate the most change refuses to see. Cauis has lost too much already to yield. No, he will see the destruction of Polycarp no matter the consequences.
You can’t help but admire Polycarp’s determination and courage in this story. He looks the dead in the eye, sees their true selves, and sets their tortured souls free. He helps those who others throw away. He provides for those who cannot provide for themselves. And he stands up to his convictions even when faced with the possiblity of a horrific death by fire. And even when it is obvious that Cauis and the jury of his peers refuse to see the truth, Polycarp holds firm to his beliefs and faces the prospect of death with stoic calm and grace. This is a man I could truly admire.
I wanted to hate Cauis. A man with power who refuses to do what’s right. But I found that I could easily sympathize with him. Because to him his acts of violence and unreasoning are the right solutions. Forcing himself to be blind to alternatives, he truly believes that the destruction of Polycarp, the desecrater of Rome’s ancestors, the man who spreads his mass delusion to the youth of Rome, is the answer to silencing the dead that bang on the doors of the living. He is driven by the atrocities in his own life, and he truly wants to save Rome and its people. He is simply ignorant and rigidly set in his ways. To change the very social structure of Rome is unthinkable. He would rather hold onto the lies that Rome lives on while Polycarp would rather face the truth head on and find a resolution that benefits all. Cauis will always do what he thinks is best for Rome’s aristocracy, even if it dooms them all.
Personally, I think this story is truly about Regina. The freed pleasure slave that has found a home in Polycarps insula. There she is domina, the head of the household. Her love for the man who freed her, Polycarp, is a love of depth, gratitude, and admiration. Though Polycarp may struggle with his attraction to Regina, he never allows such lust to come to fruition, even though Regina may wish it otherwise. In Polycarp’s eyes she sees a better future for herself and all of Rome. I fell in love with Regina’s character very easily. Her emotions are so strong and heart-wrenching that I almost wept for her pain. Her faith in Polycarp and his God may be tested, but she never fails to amaze me with her courage to stand up for what she believes in when it is most important. I loved the underlying tone of female empowerment in this book. In a time when women were considered almost worthless, Regina shows that women can also have the power to make a difference.
Litore has created a cast of characters like no other. They all have honor, strength, and devotion in their own way (well, almost all of them). Their faith, valor, and love are all tested, and in the end, each one comes out a hero (even Cauis in a small way) through their actions and words.
Though What Our Eyes Have Witnessed provides us with an alternative biblical history, it is not a religious story. It is a story of poverty, injustice, human frailty, as well as hope, courage, and belief in oneself. Oh, and zombies. Can’t forget the zombies. Litore has a way of writing action scenes so chilling and real that you can feel the breath of the dead warm the back of your neck. There were many times that I couldn’t help but hold my breath as zombies made their presences known. Their moans becoming louder as they neared. The sight of their disfigured bodies as they reached for another victim. This book was definitely chock full of zombies to satisfy any zombie-loving reader.
The historical content was abundant and obviously thoroughly researched. The characterization was superb, as well as the detailed description.
There really wasn’t anything bad about this book. I loved reading every minute of it. I don’t know how Litore did it but it even surpassed the first book of the series, Death has Come Up into Our Windows.
I loved the sexual tension in this book. It was nothing risque, it was actually quite charming.
I still can’t get over the beautiful horror of Litore’s writing. This is a story of tragedy but with a glimmer of hope for the future. Regina was a breathtaking character that stole the show for me. She, and people like her, are what Polycarp is fighting for, and I can only hope that his teachings will show up in Litore’s future Zombie Bible books. What Our Eyes Have Witnessed was another awe-inspiring take on the zombie genre that truly changed me as a reader. Even as I write this review my eyes mist over because Litore has created a world that even today slightly holds true. Looking past the zombies, you will find that Litore writes about the very core of human error and it has both humbled me and made me appreciative of the life I live. Highly recommended.
The alley was filled with dead. The light of the lamp Polycarp held brought them out of the dark, showing the gashes and bites in their gray skin in stark detail. For a moment, his hand shook, and the light guttered. The dead slouched and slid along the wall of the insula toward him; several milling at the outlet to the Via Aquae Bruneae turned their heads with unnatural slowness, and their eyes reflected back the lamp. Their mouths opened, filling the alley with the low groaning of their hunger.
The guardsman slid his captives from his shoulders; Regina felt the pavement hit her back and rump hard, and sucked in her breath. The fourth walking corpse bent and snatched at her hair. But the guardsman’s knife slid from its sheath in a song of metal, and he drove his blade into the creature’s chest. That did not slow it. Regina cried out as she felt her head lifted by the hair, her wrists tied helplessly beneath her. The thing’s face a shadow above her, its teeth reaching for her. She tried to speak, to beg, to scream – no sound came.
“We are all on trial,” he cried. “Our dead are here to demand answers, and we are out of time. We have to choose, now, this day. Will we have a City divided into the eaters and the eaten – a City populated in the end only by the hungry dead! – or will we build a City where we break bread together, all of us, Roman and Greek and Syrian, male and female, master and slave, not feeding on each other but feeding and sustaining each other? Give me your verdict, please, then let me rest. The past few days have been more exhausting than any in my life. I will admit that I would rather die in my bed than in a fire. But now, if you can’t manage to look at the truth and decide what to do about it, I am done talking with you.”