Premise: In the midst of World War I, Major Jack Freeman gets in a dogfight with Baron Manfred von Richthofen. When he is shot down by the Red Baron, veteran Captain Michael Burke is the logical choice to go in to rescue him. Burke must gather several trusted men to make the suicide mission because not only is Jack his half brother, but he is also the son of the president.
To make things worse, the Germans have produced a corpse gas that turns the dead into zombies, raising enemy and ally to fight again and unleashing an almost unlimited supply of new soldiers into the fray. On top of this, it also seems that they have modified the gas to work on the living as well, raising Richthofen from the dead but also giving him enhanced abilities and strength.
Burke must find a way to sneak into the German prison camp to rescue Freeman before they learn his political secret, but also before they have a chance to experiment on him and release their new and improved corpse gas upon the world using tunneling machines and airships to turn the tide. Will Burke be successful, or will it be too late for the Allies and the world?
Themes: By the Blood of Heroes is almost primarily a war story. It could survive on its own without the zombie and steampunk elements, though these things create a mystique and incorporate current trends with the military aspects of the book.
In a way, By the Blood of Heroes is a heist novel in the way that Burke and his men plan their infiltration of the German camp to accomplish the goal of rescuing Freeman. Among other things, in their discovery of the corpse gas production facilities their plans change and they are forced to improvise as they go.
Pros: While I can’t vouch completely for the accuracy of all the weaponry, the historical military lingo is evidence that Joseph Nassise did his homework for this book. The blending of steampunk and zombies in the historical military setting is accomplished masterfully, creating a zombie novel far better than others I have read, but quite unique comparatively.
Cons: Knowing what I know about zombies, it is hard to believe that they have the potential to have heightened senses and abilities while at the same time constantly decomposing. I also wasn’t a fan of the cover. Despite its unique setting, seeing the Red Baron with a decomposing face seemed cliche for the zombie genre.
Recommendations: On seeing the cover for By the Blood of Heroes and reading the blurb, I was wary of it being too cheesy. I was thankfully proven wrong that this turned out to be a historical war story that played the zombie and steampunk cards judiciously. I put this up there in the same vein as Boneshaker and Dreadnought by Cherie Priest in the realm of successful cross-genre fiction, blending historical fiction, zombies, and steampunk all in one tasty story. I am very much looking forward to Book 2.