[Review] George Romero and Daniel Kraus’ Living Dead

I found Daniel Kraus by way of his Shape of Water novelization with Guillermo del Toro and knew immediately I had discovered someone with a truly unique gift for writing empathy. I came to George Romero’s beloved Night of the Living Dead not long after, and found in it the gift of a unique brand of social awareness. Duane Jones’ casting as Ben was simply because he was best for the part, not part of some intentional move to create a particular message. Yet the message sent by his presence as the only Black man we see in a world ravaged by a disease that turns its infected into mindless murderers is clear to us, and was immediately clear even to viewers of the time. Accidental social commentary is often some of the most poignant around, after all. It means the things about the world we’d like to criticize are so deeply burned into our brains that we connect it to what we watch without ever having to be told to.

While Daniel Kraus’ efforts may be a little more intentional, they are no less impactful for it. Indeed, The Living Dead gives us two masters of their respective crafts coming together to weave a tale of empathy in a time of apparent hopelessness, light in a time of immeasurable darkness. And what a timely release it got, eh?

The Living Dead presents us with the origin story of that mysterious disease that turned people the world over into mindless undead cannibals, unable to think of anything but the pursuit of their next meal: any living human they can find. It weaves varying perspectives from all across the world, age, and class spectrums to present as full a picture as possible of the sheer terror of this unexplainable societal trauma. It shakes the world as we know it to its very core, forcing each person to make seemingly unfathomable decisions all for the sake of survival.

By turns vibrantly upsetting, heartbreaking, and filled with hope, this completed version of George Romero’s idea for his magnum opus of a series could not have been put into better hands than Kraus. If anyone could write eloquently about the undead ravaging the world while the outcasts of society look on and cobble a way of survival together, desperately seeking bright spots in an all-consumingly depressing world. Seeking connection in a barren world ravaged by blind hunger that comes across with striking similarities to blind hatred. All the world around them wants is to consume them, all they want is to stay alive and remember the people they’ve lost to this decimating virus with as much love as they can muster.

And we were given this gift from Romero and Kraus in a time when we might have needed it most: amidst our own desolate, mind-numbingly traumatic pandemic. We may not be undead, but we certainly needed this spark to remind us of the value of hope in a dead world.

I would like to thank NetGalley and MacMillan-Tor/Forge Publishing for the opportunity to review an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson

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Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.