Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fiends of the Eastern Front – review

Author: David Bishop

First Published: 2007

Contains spoilers

Fiends of the Eastern Front is an omnibus edition of three novels: Operation Vampyr, The Blood Red Army and Twilight of the Dead and was based upon a 2000AD strip from some years ago, named Fiends of the Eastern Front. The premise is simple, vampires involved in the Second World War and with that simple premise all should be good.

The books are set during different periods of WW2, in the German Nazi theatre of war. The first book is set during Operation Barbarossa and follows three German brothers, the Vollmers; one Luftwaffe, one a panzer commander and the last an infantryman. Their war efforts are aided by Rumanian allies, but amongst them are troops from Transylvania – troops who only fight at night and are especially vicious.

The three brothers independently discover the truth about the vampires and their leader Lord Constanta. Worse they realise that German soldiers are being made thralls of the vampires and anyone who might reveal them is killed. Together they decide to make a stand against something which is more of a threat than their supposed enemy.

The second book is told from the point of view of Zunetov, a Kommisar who has himself sent to the front out of loyalty to the Soviet state and finds himself in the siege of Stalingrad. An affront to a local politician sees Zunetov stripped of his rank and sent to join a penal colony, where he and his fellow convicts are the only ones who know the truth of their real enemy.

The final book is based on the march to Berlin and the fall of the city and follows the surviving Vollmers and Zunetov. The Rumanians have switched sides and the Russians, who had once fought the vampires, now fight with them. Only our protagonists seem aware that the vampires could not care about the human war, this is a prelude to their own war to enslave humanity.

The vampires themselves are rather powerful, able to turn to mist, into wolves and bats, they can also control many thralls and raise the dead as zombie like revenants to attack their enemies. They can be killed by stake through the heart, a killing shot with silver (as in a bullet), decapitation and sunlight. Holy water and symbols burn them and garlic stays their power.

Constanta can be resurrected from the smallest smote of dust if his master, the mysterious Sire, still lives. Those bitten by a vampire will return as one.

The idea is sound but something was off within the delivery for me. The first book dragged and, whilst there was both the horror of vampires and the horror of war, I remained fairly neutral to the plights of the characters and pretty un-horrified. The series picked up in book two, with Zunetov being an interesting character and a good voice for narration but I felt the series dragged again through book three.

I can’t put my finger exactly on why, but the book just didn’t click and I found myself putting it down and then having to force myself to pick it back up again – never a good sign. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the prose, however, and another reader may get more out of the experience than I did.

From my point of view however, 4.5 out of 10 is all I can manage. Good ideas but off the mark.

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