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De Bello Lemures by Thomas Brookside

Book Review by Ursus

Damn those Zombies! Who among us, I ask, have not suffered at the hands of those miserable undead! Well, our Roman forebears knew how to deal with this scum: with fortitude and steel! You see, when I had first heard of De Bello Lemures, I scoffed. I rarely read fiction - why bother with tales of fancy when living history is so much more interesting? But fiction it ain't, my friends. While mistakenly dismissed as a cheeky, postmodern adventure tale, De Bello Lemures is instead a letter to the emperor Commodus by a ranking military general who observed the first historical rise of the zombie threat.

Lucius Artorius Castus, for those of you in the know, was a Dux operating in Britain and Gaul, commander of a contingent of Sarmatian warriors. His heroic exploits possibly served as the basis for the Arthurian legend. But the real adventures of Castus, as it were, are far more interesting than some maudlin legend of round tables and knights in shining armor.

Recent advances in imaging technology having uncovered lost writings from ancient parchment, Castus's unsung exploits can now finally be revealed. Having successfully routed an army of rebels and brigands in Gaul, Castus leads the prisoners to crucifixion. However, amongst their number is a Druid, a member of the Celtic religious caste driven into hiding since the days of emperor Claudius. Taking umbrage at being executed on Samhain, the Celtic observance of the dead, the Druid incants a vile curse. And the dead start walking, having gained a taste for human flesh. Castus and his crew are held up in a Roman villa when the zombies attack, and what follows can be described as a "Night of the Roman Dead."

"Lemures" is of course the Roman term for the spirits of the dead, particularly the harmful kind that come calling to their relatives. The Romans had a bizarre festival designed to placate them, which involved, of all things, beans. But contrary to Roman paganism, beans won't save Castus from these monsters. Indeed, no religion is safe, as illicit Christians are caught up in the madness, their supplications to their savior quite ignored as the undead devour indiscriminately.

The original Latin text is thoughtfully translated to us by Thomas Brookside, a scholar of some obvious importance, though his credentials are never stated. Brookside has liberally notated the text with elucidating commentaries on Latin terms and Roman culture. He also weighs the evidence on a current academic debate on whether or not the events Castus described actually happened, or whether they are simply literary musings. (But only scholars locked away in Ivory Towers would seriously debate the matter; the rest of us well know the dreadful reality of the situation. Ravenous, brain-dead zombies are everywhere. Just take a tour through your local Wal-Mart and you'll find them).

The exploits of Castus make for griping reading. This is despite the fact that certain points are predictable, arising from people behaving foolishly out of stupidity and desperation. (No, you dolt, don't go outside the house. You'll get eaten. Gah! I told you so, idiot.) Castus himself lives up to his heroic reputation: decisive, level-headed and strong. Not to offer spoilers, but there is a part at the end where Castus finds a sword and, well ... you can witness the birth of an Arthurian legend.

This short read held my full attention for an evening. My only regret is the bitter knowledge that Castus ultimately failed to halt the zombie contagion. I remember my last job, surrounded as I was by legions of them. Languid, monstrous creatures grown grotesquely obese on the garbage they devoured. And the eyes! The eyes ... soulless vacancies, staring at the world without cognition or purpose. I am no Artorius Castus. I did not stay and fight. I ran. But I am alive and happy. And thus, my friends, I hope you never fall prey to the gnawing bite of the Lemures.

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De Bello Lemures, Or The Roman War Against the Zombies of Armorica - Related Topic: Commodus


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