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At Hell’s Gates
by various authors

Synopsis:

When evil overflows from the deepest, fiery pits, the battle will be At Hell's Gates...Whether you are a zombie aficionado, or you feed on horror, there is something for everyone. We've summoned some of the top Zompoc authors, masters in horror, and even some new talent to strike fear into even the most jaded soul. Dare you look, let alone approach, the dreaded gates?

The concept of the dead coming back to life in one capacity or another has been around for a long time. From actual attempted historical rituals to the classic “mummy” concept, people have always been interested in how such a concept would play out. Then, in 1968, a director in his mid-twenties named George A. Romero made a little picture called Night of the Living Dead and the game was changed forever. Zombies had been a concept prior, but what followed thanks to Night was a whole slew of movies dealing with the flesh-munchers. In time, however, the modern zombie extended to TV shows, commercials, and, of course, the book world.

Many authors have dealt with the living dead in their stories to different degrees. Zombies are more popular than ever and it's understandable that those writers with an interest in horror may want to delve into those decomposing, chomping waters. At Hell's Gates is not your everyday anthology. It doesn't break down to a simple collection of short stories. All the stories featured are on the theme of a world thrown into a very different chaos than most would consider ordinary. The most common theme is the zombie apocalypse, which I think most of us would agree would be the most fun kind.

You would think having an anthology that followed a theme would get tedious or worn down after a while, but you would be wrong. Horror fans, more than anyone, know how a concept can be taken in a million different directions and cross over many other ideas and genres. No story in At Hell's Gates seems like anything we've just read previously. Some stories, such as Black Crow Laughing by Devan Sagliani deal with the heart of the zombie apocalypse, giving us a glimpse into how things might look a little ways into the phenomenon. Others, like Undead Britain by Frank Tayell deal with the beginning stages, with primary characters still in disbelief or complete unawareness of what is starting to happen. All these different snapshots do a great job of giving the full picture of what life might be like in such circumstances. They often feel genuine and typically avoid the cliché plaguing so many contributions to horror fiction.

None of the stories featured are stand-alone stories. All of them in some way have to do with pre-existing works. Normally this would leave me a bit weary, but none of the stories featured feel hacked up or incomplete. Sure, a few might end right before more action is about to happen, but they never feel disappointing in this regard. The stories work in and of themselves and if you are particularly interested in one or all, there is more out there that you can read, often featuring the same characters from the authors featured.

This tactic of showcasing parts of a larger world actually keeps things fresh and moving. The characters are well-developed and the respective authors clearly know exactly where they are going with their stories. One story will throw you deep into the limb-scattered streets in the heat of the action, while others will take you on a journey to a character's discovery of sudden zombie occupation. While many are largely about the walking dead taking over and the protagonists taking them down like the hero of Dead Rising --which is not a bad thing whatsoever--others utilize the zombie background as a way to touch upon other elements.

Nefarious by Stevie Kopas deals with a more on-the-level exploration, going into the characters and how the zombie apocalypse has affected individuals and brought out their true colors. It's little touches like this that keep the book from ever feeling repetitive. If you like all-out zombie shooting action, there's that, but if you're interested in hearing a story that focuses on other elements and gains horror cred from other areas, there's plenty of that as well.

Not even all the stories deal with zombies in the traditional sense. Hour of the Beast by J.M. Martin, for example, deals more with an alternate reality and The Err Apparent by Tim Marquitz is more about demonic possession and the Satanic walks of life. The Husband by Jacqueline Druga doesn't really deal with anything especially supernatural. None of these stories seem out of place, however, and go along with the same realm of a dangerous existence in a world gone mad. And, in the end, they are all good, which is all I can really ask from any piece of writing.

Most of the stories deal primarily with everyone's favorite re-animated cannibals, however, but they don't all take place in the same universe. Each story represents an individual author's take on how such an event might look, happen, and play out. Every writer adds their own flavor and area of interest. Paul Mannering's contribution Princess and the Flea, for example, is told from the point of view of a rural-dwelling child. Itakes things from more of a farm-based redneck standpoint, as opposed to the large metropolitan areas that usually are associated with such an outbreak.

Several stories, such as Journal of the Undead: The Beginning by S.G. Lee and Cracked: A Deadland Saga short story by Rachael Aukes delve into the military aspect of what would follow such an event as the zombie apocalypse. This is somewhat fitting, as the book itself has a tie to such matters. All the proceeds from the anthology go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a non-profit organization that serves wounded soldiers and their families. As someone who has many loved ones in the military, I appreciate that greatly. However, the charitable aspect simply serves as a wonderful gesture from the collaborators. The book itself is a legitimate full-on horror novel showcasing authentic zombie stories to keep flesh-eating fans happy.

At Hell's Gates is the ultimate thirst-quencher for zombie fans. All the classic elements are represented as well as plenty of new ones. Very few aspects of life, in connection with the zombie uprising, go untouched. From medical people having to deal with the sudden epidemic, to your average parents merely trying to keep their children and selves alive, it's really a rich collection, something that could result from different creative minds coming together. If you think the zombie world is worn territory, this should change your mind. This is not some quick cash-in on a popular craze, these are real horror writers with a real passion for what they do, giving you an inside look at one of the more enticing horror entities.

All in all, At Hell's Gates is a whole lot of fun. Whether you're partial to one style of horror or another, you should have a pretty difficult time not finding something in this book you'll enjoy. In fact, you may find yourself discovering new ideas and styles that you never previously gave much thought to. I love horror anthologies and At Hell's Gates lives up to the high standard I hold them to. It's an ambitious project that actually works in practice and it's always a treat to see such a thing come together in such a successful way. So let At Hell's Gates take a bite out of you. You just may find yourself being converted into a fan.

P.J. Griffin, HMS

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