Disgraced biomechanic Phillip Syntax has been forced into obscurity by his beloved mentor and betrayed by his lover. Having lived in a long, self-imposed seclusion, Syntax is visited by a legendary soldier, who offers Syntax a chance to restore his name by accompanying him on an unprecedented journey-by-air to claim the North Pole. Unwilling to go but unable to refuse, Syntax and his servant find themselves aboard the Northern Fancy, an airship commissioned and manned by the legend himself. Among the hand-picked crew of experts is Syntax’s estranged love, Geraldine, a doctor who left him for his mentor years before. Geraldine oversees the health of the crew with the help of a “vitamin” injection designed to ward off the looming cold of True North.
So here I’ll say that, diving into the first few chapters of Tonia Brown’s The Cold Beneath, I didn’t have high hopes. The concept was cool and pretty solid, but I was turned off immediately by the overly flowery prose and characters who felt completely overwrought; characters whose names were teetering on the brink of ridiculous (I’m looking at you, Gideon Alabaster Lightbridge) and whose dialogue tried just a little too hard.
That said, I’ll admit it: I’m a picky reader. It’s like a bad habit, and as annoying as it might be to other people, there’s no question that it’s most annoying to me. Grammatical errors shut me down. Spelling and typing mistakes drive me bonkers. “Bad writing” in any form makes me actively angry. Okay, if I’m telling the truth here, I’m not picky – I’m militant. That militancy makes me a passable writer; it also makes being a reviewer tremendously difficult. So I work at it. I work hard to always be fair, to be sure to highlight the good I find in any piece of work, and to remember, above all, that I’m not always right.
So here’s where I eat crow. While The Cold Beneath did suffer from a pretty shaky start, it recovered quickly and found its voice. Brown has a pretty firm grasp of horror genre basics, and comes through with a narrative that is ultimately engaging and legitimately scary. Perfectly paced, the story moved quickly, but never felt as though it was rushing toward its goals. Brown’s take on the zombie model is fresh, creates tension, and works extremely well within the narrative structure. While the gore never goes over the top, there’s plenty of solid, satisfying zombie violence to be had.
Overall, The Cold Beneath really is enjoyable. Horror fans will dig the unique twist on the often-overused zombie theme, while fans of sci-fi/fantasy will get a kick out of the clockwork world the characters inhabit. There’s a little something for everyone here, and Tonia Brown does a good job of tying everything together to create a bleak-but-fun cross-genre zombie adventure.
Kara is a Senior Office Assistant for the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics at Indiana University. A past English major and lifetime writer, she has also served both as an actress and behind-the-scenes assistant for several projects with our friends at Clockwerk Pictures. Kara lives with her husband in Bloomington, Indiana. In her spare time, she is a freelance editor/proofreader for international students at Indiana University, and serves as an organizer of the Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).