It’s up to Marius, Gerd, and Gerd’s not-dead-enough Granny to journey across the continent and put the dead back in the afterlife where they belong.
Last year Lee Battersby’s The Corpse-Rat King was one of the first books to come out of Angry Robot’s first Open Door month and I was excited to see what could come out of such a process. While I did have some problems with the book – difficulties connecting to the main character and some pacing issues – I quite enjoyed the story and I was left wanting to discover how Battersby would finish Marius’ story. In The Marching Dead I found a great return to this story. I liked that we return to a Marius who has what he wanted at the end of the last book and he’s bored to death. He wasn’t made for the peaceful, quiet country life. So the sudden reappearance of Drenthe, the soldier who dragged him to the underworld last time, while shocking, is as much a relief as an annoyance.
Unlike in the previous book, in The Marching Dead Marius is immediately sympathetic, there was no warming up period needed. Partly this was due to the fact we already know Marius and his quirks, but the fact that his quandary at the beginning of the book is quite relatable – who hasn’t gotten what they thought they wanted, only to find out it wasn’t as wonderful as they thought? – also helps in this respect. He’s also quickly surrounded by people he grudgingly has to admit he cares about, such as Gerd and his Granny. In addition to the return of these two, there are several wonderful, new characters, among whom Drenthe, Billinor, Fellipan, Arnobew and yes, even Keth. I especially loved Billinor, the young, somewhat innocent King of Scorby. The way Marius helps him find his voice and lets him say a proper goodbye to his father was touching and I really enjoyed his role in the book. This broad array of characters lets Battersby show off his biggest strength: fun, cynical banter. His dialogues are always strong, but never as strong as when the banter turns a bit sardonic and dark.
The Marching Dead is more than just a quest to rescue the girl, and later rescue the world; however, it’s also the story of one man accepting his calling. I loved the emotional journey Marius takes, returning to his childhood haunts and letting us glimpse what made him the person he became and his realisation of who he needs to become. We follow his slow shift of perspective – put into words in the latter part of the novel – moving from thinking as a living person to thinking as a dead person, the benefits of which truly come to light once they start planning for the final battle in the book. Marius has to release those bonds that tie him to life and it’s not an easy process. Of course, the story isn’t all doom and gloom; there is plenty to laugh about, some great action and some lovely world-building. As I noted in my review of The Corpse-Rat King, the bone cathedral gave me the creeps and in this book Battersby adds several more arresting landmarks to his world. The most impressive of which has to be the cliffs of Tylytene and its nunneries. I found this locale fascinating and this community of nuns seems to harbour plenty of stories should Battersby choose to revisit them.
The resolution of the novel is bittersweet, with everything wrapped up neatly, if not totally happily. The Marching Dead is a fabulous final to this duology and Marius’ story is definitely something different, but very enjoyable. Battersby’s first series can be chalked up as a success and I for one am curious to see where the author will go next.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.