Lambdin's MORBID HEARTS Fun, Well-Written Series-Starter

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MORBID HEARTS is the first book in the Dead Hearts series of novels by Susan L. Lambdin. Having read the second book in the series first, you may be thinking to yourselves, “Why would you read the first book now?” Well, that is a fair question that I will answer like this: Knowing what happens in the sequel lets me look at the first novel in a different light than reading it first. I get to look at it from the perspective of: How well does the author set things up for the sequel? How well does she develop the characters personalities in the first book, and did they carry over into the second book so that they did not appear as different people?

That, to me, is a refreshing look when reading a series of novels that I don’t get when reading them in series order.

I can say with an absolute certainty that Susan does an excellent job of this. As each character was introduced, and as the book moved along, more and more of who they were in the second novel was clearly developed in this one. It was like looking into a flashback into their lives, from personality traits and relationships to places, groups, and back stories--and to top it all off, we are not talking about just two or three main characters here, but several main (and a dozen or so more ancillary) characters who have more than just passing mention in the books. For a less skilled author, it would be very easy to get lost in a sea of muddiness, but Ms. Lambdin keeps everyone involved and continually develops all of them with such skill and dexterity that I never forget who is who and what are they like and how do they fit into the mix of things.

For those not familiar with the premise of these novels: If you’re a fan of any form of horror, be it Zombie, Plague, Vampire, Lycanthrope or other, this series is for you. I never thought it possible to weave all these different beings, creatures and happenings together into a singular storyline that somehow makes sense, but, dag-nabbit! Susan showed me differently. The tie that binds here is a plague. It first turned people into zombies, and then mutated, turning them into other creatures. That could be a tough pill to swallow, but Susan does something brilliantly here, as she describes the plague as doing more than turning people into zombies, but more evolving human beings into different creatures that can only be described by that with which we are already familiar. Brilliant!

The story starts not too long after the devastating plague has occurred, and we are given clues as to when it began and who started it. The major players in the story are all teenagers who belong to different teams supporting the “Freedom Army,” made up of adults and Army remnants that have secured a portion of Colorado, striving to keep it zombie-free and maintain civilized order while also trying to keep out scavengers. The teams support the army (and there are some genuine soldiers in this army) by running patrols, and many have the goal to one day be a part of the army, vying for position among their own ranks, causing personalities and relationships to collide. The major players here are a girl named Cadence, her second in command Highbrow (everyone in the novel is only given a first name that is not really their own, because the old world is behind them now and it’s a new world--except Cadence, who, by odd chance is given her real name as her new name), and Rafe, who, along with Highbrow, has a vested interest in the affection of Cadence. There are several others that could be classified as “main characters,” such as Thor, Sarge, Luna, Raven and Whisper, but these three are the biggest.

This book is action-packed pretty much from start to finish, and there are lots of twists as the humans fight to keep their camp and their way of life secure from the zombies and scavengers. This leads to an epic battle where we see Cadence and her troops rise to the occasion, and see her come of age as a the leader she is, with a restructuring of the order of things afterwards.

Something else that Susan does so well in this novel is that, with so many characters, when the mayhem breaks loose and things are happening to people and groups all around Cadence, we see her develop as a leader and mature as she handles all of the situations, one at a time and several all at once. You get a real sense of the fear and anxiety she must feel as she tries to keep everything together and keep everyone alive while the world crashes in around them--and you see on the other end how all the diverse characters come to respect her, young and old, because of this. You don’t get that in a story with only a handful of characters. And what would a novel like this be without some of the people you come to like and respect meeting their ultimate fate, sometimes when you expect it and sometimes when you don’t? I like how Susan takes her time for the world to unfold, developing it into the world that we see in the sequel.

Susan is very descriptive of the setting--so much that you can easily visualize each situation and how one relates to the other. Though graphic, there is no gratuitous sex or over the top goriness that abounds in lesser novels where that sort of thing is used in place of a solid story. I like that; the story stands on its own.

The way the book ends sets you up for the sequel perfectly, just as that one sets you up for the third book in the series.

In every sense, this is an extremely well thought out and well written story that will keep you on the edge of your seat and coming back for more. I could easily see this series being a television show on SyFy or the like. And as for coming back for more, I am eagerly anticipating the thid novel in the series, VENGEFUL HEARTS. So stay tuned.