The Front: Screaming Eagles
Timothy W Long
I like novels about the Second World War, and I absolutely love novels about the zombie apocalypse, but rarely do the two actually come together in my experience. So when I was browsing Amazon a few months ago and came across The Front: Screaming Eagles by Timothy W Long, with the tagline “Band of Brothers meets Dead Snow”, I was both pleasantly surprised and intrigued enough to purchase it – and even happier to see that it is the first novel in a planned series.
The Ardennes, December 1944. After nearly six months of fighting through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the Western Allies have finally reached the German border, and are poised to launch an assault into the heart of the Third Reich after a winter break. With the Allied armies going into winter quarters, the Ardennes is seen as a particularly quiet sector, one where inexperienced ‘green’ units can be stationed, and veteran units can receive replacements like Private Franklin Grillo of the 101st Airborne Division. Unfortunately for the Allied units in that area, the Ardennes is ground zero for the last major German offensive of the war, Operation Watch on the Rhine – popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge.
As if that wasn’t bad enough news for soldiers like Private Grillo, the Germans have decided to distribute a new serum to their frontline troops participating in Watch on the Rhine – one that turns them from trained soldiers into bloodthirsty killers, barely able to use their weapons and with an overriding desire to rip their enemies apart with their bare hands. Historically, the Battle of the Bulge was an incredibly difficult campaign for the Allies, centered around the barely-successful defence of the town of Bastogne; in The Front, the beleaguered American defenders don’t stand a chance against an ever-growing horde of German soldiers that can take an incredible amount of punishment, can only be killed with headshots or explosives, and who can spread their infection to anyone they kill.
The Front is seen through the eyes of several American soldiers, each having their own chapters which alternate between the green Private Grillo; a grizzled veteran Sherman tank commander; an infantry Lieutenant, and several other protagonists as they are gradually pushed together for a last-ditch stand at Bastogne. The tagline reference to Band of Brothers is well-deserved, in my opinion, as the author has obviously done their research while writing the story, and everything rings true as authentic – equipment, tactics, weapons and so forth. Even during the closing stages of the battle for Bastogne, when thousands of undead German troops swarm the American defences, the story still manages to retain that authentic feeling – as if Mr Long had produced a missing Band of Brothers episode where things had gone very wrong.
The writing is of a very high quality throughout, particularly during the action scenes, and although none of them are particularly three-dimensional (relying on pulp stereotypes like The Grizzled Sergeant, The Scared Newbie, the Tough and Caring Officer), all of the protagonists have sufficient depth to at least retain your interest in them as you read; I hope in particular that we see more of Grillo and his adventures during the retreat from Bastogne.
In conclusion, this was a great read that I got through swiftly, looking for more, and I’m happy to report that author David Moody has confirmed that the sequel, Red Devils, is planned for a February 2017 release. I certainly intend to pick it up as soon as it is released.