I bought The Eyes of the Dead by G.R.Yeates on the recommendation of an author. Usually I wouldn’t do such a thing but the cover intrigued me and the following information from the book’s Kindle page piqued my interest given my love of history:
“Vampires are loose in the trenches of the First World War.
Passchendaele, 1917. Private Reg Wilson is a man with a name but no memories. A soldier who remembers nothing of life before the fighting began. Until he comes to Black Wood, a tainted place that knows him intimately.There, he will discover a darkness buried long ago by time and dust. An appetite that has been awoken by war. A hunger that will feed upon his blood, his regrets and his worst fears. It will show him what he has forgotten. It will show him nightmare made flesh. And, before he dies, it will make him look deep into the eyes of the dead.”
Before we go any further, I feel obliged to issue all musophobes with a warning: This book is LOADED with rats!
The Eyes of the Dead starts out conventionally enough with troops in the trenches of World War One who in an action over the top, get separated from the battle group and stumble across a derelict church…
I think it would be fair to say that Yeates’ vampires are far from the usual bloodsucker archetype seen in the genre. In fact, there is something distinctly demonic and more insidious about them than the familiar Eastern European undead villain of the genre.
G.R.Yeates is an incredibly skillful writer with the ability to use an almost poetic, very descriptive turn of phrase that allows him to conjure up some of the most vivid and disturbing horror that I have ever come across in a book. In fact, I am not ashamed to admit that at times, Yeates’ work had my stomach churning; especially when he has a mischief of rats writhing under a dying man’s skin and effectively eating him inside out. Also, a scene involving a patient in a military hospital self-mutilating himself and proceeding to carve out his own tongue and gouge out his own eyes left me a little perturbed. It’s safe to say that gorehounds will be suitably sated by the brutal deaths and mutilations in The Eyes of the Dead.
Throwing vampires into the already hellish nightmare of the Great War creates a veritable hell on earth for the story’s protagonist and all those he comes into contact with.
However, despite all these positives, I found myself tiring of the book and what went on. Wilson flits between sleep plagued by nightmarish visions and waking hours where he’s unsure if what had occurred was dream or reality; seeing his undead fall comrades, visions of infernal beasts stalking him; and at times the reader is left wondering if Wilson is suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t quite apparent either and led to some confusion. Perhaps this was the intention of the author but it just served to irritate me. Additionally, it did seem to repeat this cycle and this only exacerbated my negative feelings.
This surrealism did little for me but may appeal to other readers. The Eyes of the Dead certainly has graphic, gruesome scenes aplenty but for me, lacked any real thread of plot, simply drifting from one gory death to another.