Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook Edition 13 October 2009)
Series: Star Wars Legends
Length: 6 hours 42 minutes
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
In this week’s Throwback Thursday, I look at an entertaining blend of horror and Star Wars with Death Troopers, a book from the Star Wars Legends collection which I listened to in its audiobook format.
Death Troopers is set a short time before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The Imperial prison barge Purge is the temporary home of the galaxy’s worst criminals, rebels and murderers. Carrying over 500 prisoners, as well as guards, stormtroopers and other personnel, the ship is a floating hive of scum and villainy, where the guards are just as bad as the inmates. En route to a permanent prison facility, the engines fail, stranding the Purge in an uninhabited area of space. Rescue appears to be weeks away, unless the crew can fix the engines. The discovery of an apparently deserted Star Destroyer offers hope to the Purge’s crew, but the ghost ship contains a dark secret.
A boarding party sent to scavenge parts for the Purge inadvertently brings back something lethal: a virus that spreads incredibly fast and soon infects everyone aboard the ship. Within hours, only a few survivors are left alive: the ship’s compassionate doctor, the sadistic captain of the guards, two young teenage brothers and a certain pair of smugglers. However, these survivors soon discover that the sudden and bloody death of everyone on the ship is the least of their problems. Shortly after dying the bodies of the Purge’s crew and passengers violently reanimate. These creatures are driven, unstoppable and have a hunger for the flesh of the living. As the survivors attempt to flee the Purge, they soon find that the Star Destroyer above is not as abandoned as they had believed. The dead have risen, and their greatest desire is to infect the entire Star Wars universe.
Zombies! In a Star Wars book! How can I possibly resist that? No seriously, tell me how it is even possible not to check out a book with that sort of premise.
Death Troopers is a 2009 release from horror, thriller and tie-in novel author Joe Schreiber, who wrote several fun-sounding books between 2006 and 2015. These novels include two additional Star Wars novels, all of which fall in the Star Wars Legends line of novels. Indeed, his third Star Wars novel, 2014’s Maul: Lockdown, was actually the last novel released in the Star Wars Legends series of books. His other Star Wars novel, 2011’s Red Harvest, is a prequel to Death Trooper, and is set in the Old Republic, thousands of years before the events of Death Troopers.
The Star Wars Legends series of books is the current incarnation of the old Star Wars expanded universe, which, in addition to the six Star Wars movies that George Lucas produced, included all the books, comics, video games and television series that were endorsed by Lucasfilm. All of these entries were considered canon, so at one point there were actually proper zombies in the Star Wars canon. While the original expanded universe did have a dedicated fan base, it did not survive the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm intact. In order to allow for the new movies, Disney declared that, with the exception of the films and The Clone Wars television show, everything created before 25 April 2014 would no longer be considered canon. However, rather than disavow all of these previous Star Wars media items, Disney rebranded this original expanded universe as the Star Wars Legends collection and kept it as a deep pool of ideas and characters for any future writers of the franchise.
It’s no secret that I am a bit of a Star Wars fan, having reviewed several tie-in books and comics in the last year. While my current interest mostly lies within Disney’s expanded universe, I did grow up with a number of books and games in what is now the Star Wars Legends range. Star Wars books and comics are going to form a significant part of my upcoming Throwback Thursday entries, but I had not intended to dive back into the Star Wars Legends range until I had gotten through all the books in the Disney expanded universe, as I wanted to stick with what is currently canon. However, I happened to come across the cover and plot synopsis for Death Troopers the other day, and the moment I saw it I knew that I had to read it. I immediately grabbed an audiobook copy, narrated by Sean Kenin, and started listening to it.
While I loved the plot synopsis, I was worried that Death Troopers was going to be a Star Wars novel first that featured some light zombie elements and minimal gore. However, what I was not expecting was an extremely terrifying and well-written zombie novel that makes full use of its Star Wars setting to create a dark, gruesome and somewhat scary story. I was very impressed with Schrieber’s ability to craft an amazing zombie novel. His creations are pretty darn terrifying, especially as the author paints some detailed and horrifying descriptions to go along with his story. The introduction of the zombies is done perfectly, in my opinion, as Schreiber goes for a slow burn approach. Following the introduction of the virus, the book’s survivors slowly explore the ship, searching for a way to escape. The author slowly builds up the tension by having things move around out of the characters’ sight, the bodies slowly disappear, bloody handprints appear in places and the characters hear all sorts of noises. The characters of course have no idea what is happening, and blame their imagination or paranoia, but the reader knows full well what is happening. Even when the first zombie is actually seen, panic and realisation still does not immediately set in for the rest of the characters, much to the reader’s frustration. It is not until well after halfway through Death Troopers that the zombies are revealed in all their horror, and from there the pace of the book picks up, as the characters must find a way to quickly get away from the creatures hunting them. This slow introduction of the zombies was a fantastic part of the book and represents some outstanding horror writing from Schreiber.
Despite this being a Star Wars novel, Schreiber does not dial back on the blood, gore or horror, and there are quite a few dark scenes throughout the book. I was on the edge of my seat for quite a lot of it and felt that this was a great piece of horror fiction. There are quite a few dark scenes, such as cannibalism, jaunts in rooms full of body parts and some fairly gross surgical scenes, all of which Schreiber describes in shocking detail. I did find the story to be a bit predictable in places, and it was pretty easy to predict which of the characters would live or die. There were also quite a few unanswered questions (what the hell was the lung room for?), although they may be answered in the prequel book Schreiber wrote a couple of years later. I also thought that the way Schreiber ended the plot line about the zombies attempting to escape the Star Destroyer and infect the rest of the universe was a bit of an anti-climax, but overall this was a pretty fun story that I quite enjoyed.
I felt that Schreiber was quite clever in his use of the Star Wars elements throughout Death Troopers. It is quite obvious that Schreiber is a fan of the franchise and he has a wonderful understanding of the history, technology and characters that have appeared in other Star Wars works. As a result, he is able to craft an excellent Star Wars setting for this story that presents the reader a good idea of how this book appears in relation to the rest of the franchise. However, what I really liked was how Schreiber did not overuse the Star Wars elements, and the reader’s focus was never taken away from the zombie part of the book. I also felt that several of the Star Wars elements really helped to enhance the horror aspects of the book. Having the familiar turn into something different can often be quite scary for people, and to see the often-ridiculed Imperial Stormtrooper turned into a ravenous, mutilated zombie was quite something. The inclusion of fan favourite characters Han Solo and Chewbacca was also a nice touch. Not only do you have some familiar characters for the readers to enjoy but you also raise the stakes of the story when both of these beloved characters come close to being eaten by zombies.
Another benefit of combining Star Wars and zombie fiction is that for once characters are completely justified in not knowing what a zombie is. There are quite a few other major zombie movies or television shows set in fictional worlds that are supposed to mirror ours, and yet the protagonists have no idea what zombies are, despite how much they are used in fiction. This always frustrates me, and while it was a minor thing, I was very happy to read a book where the character’s lack of understanding about zombies is completely understandable. Overall, I really liked how the author presented the Star Wars elements within the book, and I was impressed by the way he used it to make the zombie elements even scarier.
If you are tempted to check this book out, I would highly recommend that you listen to the book in its audiobook format. At just over six and a half hours, this did not take me a long time to get through, but I was absolutely amazed at how much the audiobook format enhanced the story. This is mainly down to the fantastic sound effects that were scattered throughout the story. The producers of this book did a superb job inserting a range of zombie sound effects throughout the background of the book’s narration. This includes sounds such as screams, disturbing eating sounds, moans and other assorted sounds of horror, with the continued screams being particularly off-putting. None of these sounds overwhelm or totally distract from the narration, but I found hearing them when the narrator describes a horror scene really enhanced the tension and dread I experienced. I also thought that the disconnected, whispered and screamed echoes of the chapter names was a very nice touch and it really added to the overall atmosphere of the book. In addition to these horror based sound effects, there are quite a few classic Star Wars sound effects for the reader to enjoy and get nostalgic about, including some of the classic music from the movies.
Sean Kenin’s narration was also extremely well done, as the narrator was able to create a series of fun and distinctive voices. I thought that Kenin’s Han Solo was very convincing, and it sounded a lot like the movie version of the character. I also found that having this horror story narrated to me helped bring me into the centre of the action and really experience the horror and dread that was present there. The narration of the descriptions can be a bit disturbing at times, and I would recommend not eating during one or two scenes; trust me on that. As a result, I would highly recommend that people wanting to check out Death Troopers should definitely use the audiobook version of it, as in my opinion it does an amazing job enhancing this already fun story.
I am happy to say that I was not disappointed by this entertaining combination of zombie literature and the iconic Star Wars universe. This was a pretty dark story, which also includes some familiar elements from a franchise that I truly love. Because of this I had an outstanding time reading Death Troopers and felt that it was a great example of both a zombie novel and a piece of Star Wars fiction. In my mind the book itself is four stars out of five, but I had so much fun with its audiobook format that I am raising it up to four and a quarter stars. An overall fantastic and unique read, Death Troopers is really worth checking out for fans of either zombies or Star Wars and is perfect for those who love both. I am very curious to check out Schreiber’s other Star Wars books in the future, as both of them sound like a lot of fun.