Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: "By the Blood of Heroes" by Joseph Nassise

Grade: B-

All moaning on the western front?  Yes there is a new weapons for World War I: zombies.  These classic movie monsters are central to the plot of By the Blood of Heroes by Joseph Nassise, the first novel of The Great Undead War series, coming out on May 1st.

History diverges at the end of 1917, when the desperate Germans introduce a new gas to the battlefield called T-Leiche or "corpse gas". Deceased bodies are brought back to life, giving the Germans an almost unlimited number of shock troops to use against the Allies in the trenches.  Though not smart enough to handle weapons, remote control collars keep them from trying to eat their German handlers.  This new weapon saves Germany from the jaws of defeat and prolongs the war.

Fast-forward a couple years later; pilot, ace and bastard son of the president Major Jack Freeman is shot down and taken captive by the Germans.  Veteran Captain Michael "Madman" Burke is charged with rescuing the ace before German occultists can use his blood to perform a spell that could assassinate the president.  If he can't  rescue Freeman, he will not only have to kill him but destroy his body to insure the president's safety.  This is a distinct possibility because even though Burke is Freeman's half-brother, he also hates him with a passion.

This drama is playing out during the scheming of Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron.  One of the few lucky undead who were reanimated with their intelligence intact and some new found gifts, he has lost faith with the German leadership and thinks it is time for a change.  His research into the corpse gas has produced some promising results and may be the key to ending the war.

Plausibility hounds, if they can ignore the zombies, will find a lot of unanswered questions throughout the novel.  Why has armored warfare been so ineffective in breaking the stalemate on the Western Front?  Why are massive airships still being built despite their weakness against the smaller fighter planes (in one scene the largest airship ever built by the British is taken down by single fighter piloted by Richthofen himself)?  Why is there still a "Russian Front" despite the war ending there in March 1918 with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk?  Who are the Germans fighting: the Reds, the Whites or someone else?  Finally, why is there no mention of the Ottoman Empire?  Is there really no "Middle East Front" in this alternate history?

Despite odd tactics and so little information about the rest of the world, the story was pretty good horror story.  The trials and tribulations of Freeman and Burke, two of the major point of view characters, were at times both interesting and horrifying.  Richthofen, the other major POV character, was not as enjoyable to read.  Despite what could have been done with a character who knows he is a zombie (see the Marvel Zombies series) Richthofen came off as a cliche supervillain.  At one point he even explains his master plan to take over the world to Freeman, who was in his clutches, and explained how pointless it was to resist him.  Obviously the Red Baron never read the Evil Overlord List.

The villain aside, the ending of the story was a surprise, even to me.  The sequel should open the reader up to all new horrors and I am quite happy that the novel was not simply a "lets take the plot of World War Z and set it in a different time" which you see way to often across the Internet.  Zombies fan should enjoy By the Blood of Heroes, but hard core alternate history fans might find it wanting.

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Mitro is founder, editor and contributor of Alternate History Weekly Update. When he is not busy writing about his passion for alternate history, he spends his time working as a licensed attorney in the state of Illinois and dreams of being a published author himself one day.


  1. Hi Mitro,

    Thanks for taking the time to read BtBoH!

    I wanted to stop by and answer some of those questions you posted above (non-spoiler where I can...)

    1) Armor - with steam as the driving power behind them, they just haven't been as useful in this world. You will see more armor in future books, but for the first one I focused a bit more on the air war due to Freeman's place as a pilot.

    2) Why are massive airships still being built? Human stupidty, mostly. How often in history have we seen old tactics clung to despite compelling evidence to change...

    3)Why is there a Russian front in 1918? Must say this question surprised me, as the book opens in 1921 - by the token of your logic perhaps the question should be Why is the war still going at all? So, in answer, I'll just say that this is alt history so a fair number of things have changed. An extended war with Russia, the lack of a war with the Ottoman Empire (again, more on that in book 3) and the like.

    4) Last but not least, the villian's master plan was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to Evil overlord list - which, apparently, didn't come off quite right. Ah well, win some you lose some, I guess.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts and I'm glad you enjoyed the book enough to review it.

    Joe Nassise

  2. Thanks Joseph for commenting on the book. If I can address your points separately...

    1) Interesting, I guess I just assumed they were gas-powered. Why has steam become the driving force in this world?

    2) Good point.

    3) Well the war going longer was answered in the book by the introduction of corpse gas, so that fact did not surprise me. What you are saying though is that my other questions will not be answered until the next books so I guess I will just have to wait until you publish them :-)

    4) I've always liked a certain type of villains, so you are right, you can't win them all.

    Again thanks for commenting and I would love to talk more about your novel and the future of the Great Undead War series. Email me at and maybe we can discuss doing an interview.


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