Is FRAGMENTS A Zombie Story?

Is Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead a zombie story?

Well, that depends which tropes you use to define “a zombie story”. In fact, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead is an epic fantasy novel, albeit in a dark fantasy mode. It features a zombie-like character that isn’t the protagonist, but is central to everything that happens. His name when he was alive was Valarl.

Valarl is one of the living dead, though he’s neither cannibalistic nor infectious. He is, in fact, a corpse whose unnatural movement is driven not by infection but by what amounts to a curse, a curse that compels him to find and recover a mysterious object that was once in his hands and which he lost in a long-distant apocalyptic event. The object is greatly desired by all and sundry as it is reputed to be the source of ultimate power. The corpse (the titular Valarl) follows the path the object took through history, inexorably retracing where it was taken. Driven by the curse, Valarl only gets violent if someone gets in his way. He has no will of his own and only a faint recollection of himself as a human being. When other seekers of the object realize that Valarl will sooner or later catch up with the object in time, he becomes the central focus of their search. But of course nothing is what it seems and the problem with an Ultimate Power is that the one who finds it may discover they didn’t really want what it has to offer after all.
Naturally I think Fragments is a compelling and quite unique novel, albeit appearing at first glance to be in fairly straight-forward fantasy mode. Jack Dann has described it as “one of the strangest and most interesting visions to come out of the modern horror/fantasy genres” and I hope others will agree. I have no exact date for its release yet but there is a nascent website where anyone who wants to follow its progress can come to check what’s happening: No one should expect a standard zombie story though.

Fragments Wins Best Novel Award

Continuum X — the National SF Convention for 2014 — was a special one for FRAGMENTS OF A BROKEN LAND: VALARL UNDEAD. At that convention it won the Ditmar Award for Best Novel.

Ditmar1This is wonderful in itself, but the icing on the cake, as it were, was the context in which the Award was announced. My partner Cat Sparks had already won the Best Collected Work and Best Short Story Awards — for her superlative collection The Bride Price (Ticonderoga Press) and a story from it, “Scarp”. That was exciting enough. As it happened, however, Cat had been asked to present the Best Novel Award. So, without having any prescient knowledge of the winner, she made the announcement and presented me with the Award. I will always remember her excitement on opening the envelope — and that of Jack Dann, who was sitting next to me and has been phenomenally supportive of the book for a long time. There was much shouting and hugging, then and later.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any pictorial evidence of me in my new suit (which I had brought not because I thought the book might win, but because I had been asked to present an award myself, earlier in the evening — and was required to dress in my “Oscars finery”).

Here is the full list of shortlisted works for the Best Novel category:

  • Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, Robert Hood (Wildside)
  • Ink Black Magic, Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft)
  • The Beckoning, Paul Collins (Damnation Books)
  • Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet)
  • The Only Game in the Galaxy: The Maximus Black Files 3, Paul Collins (Ford Street)

I was honoured enough to be among such worthy nominees.

The full list of Ditmar Award nominees and winners can be found on Locus Online.

Writers know we have to be content with the value of the work itself, to believe in it, and not to place too great a reliance on positive reviews or to take negative reviews to heart. True worth lies in the words, in the endeavour. But often, deep down, we struggle with insecurity and … well,  it’s hard to function in a vacuum, to get minimal response or sometimes never get even a glimmer of audience reaction to our work. Is anyone reading it? Does anyone care? Negative reviews are bad enough, though at least you may be able to learn from them. Being ignored can be the worst. When the work concerned is one that was deeply felt and the making of it had drawn blood, sweat and tears from the writer for (potentially) many years, such silence can be debilitating. So despite the problematic nature of awards in general (and arguments about them tend to proliferate throughout the writing community), the recognition offered by awards such as this one, both for winner and nominee, goes a long way toward ameliorating the pain of silence.

Fortunately Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead has been blessed with some wonderful and insightful reviews, even if the major magazines and review sites have been less than generous with their attention. But the dark gloom falls at times. Now this Ditmar Award for Best Novel comes like a burst of light in the darkness, a sonic boom in the silence. My thanks to everyone who voted for it — and were so generous with their congratulations and best wishes afterwards.

Addendum: Cover of The Bride Price, Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publishing). Trust me… you want to read this book.

bride price

9-Star Review from Scary Minds

“If I had to compare Robert Hood’s [Fragments of a Broken Land:] Valarl Undead to another novel I guess I would go with Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer; there’s the same elusiveness to the prose that requires careful reading and interpretation.”

“Robert Hood seems well aware of the genre he is working in but chooses a path less travelled and takes the Fantasy novel up a notch in the process. This is not a novel aimed at dreamy tween chicks with sparkling vampire posters on their walls, this is a blood and guts tale aimed at the adult reader. Was I ready to read something like that? Oh hell yeah, Robert Hood had me at page two and I was reading like a banshee till the final paragraph, assuming here banshees read real fast, of course.”

Jeff Ritchie celebrates the “adult” and darker aspects of Fragments in his review on the Scary Minds website — a site that focuses on the darker shades of fantasy.

But he also give due acknowledgement to a side of the novel that remains important for me — its metaphysical underpinings:

“But just when you think Robert Hood may be simply dwelling on the human plan[e] the novel takes a sort of metaphysical journey into other more surreal realms. There’s a rich texture to the novel that will keep you engrossed in the differing worlds the Author expertly and apparently effortlessly creates. While it can be an achievement to create a single alien environment and culture to set your novel in, it’s a real achievement when you create multiple worlds, as Robert Hood does here. Now I’m not going to say this will appeal to every Fantasy fan, but serious fans and gosh darn it readers with Adult levels of interpretation are going to rock out to Robert Hood’s flights of fancy here.”

His conclusion?

“Full recommendation, best Fantasy novel release this year for mine; you want a serious read then dial F for Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead.”

Read full review.


“…don’t get annoyed when things aren’t handed to you on a plate”

Fragments of a Broken Land is a rich, thought-provoking fantasy read with elements of horror.

Sean Wright’s review of Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead on the review site Adventures of a Bookonaut, emphasises several important issues relating to the novel, including the richness of the world and its history, the fact that there are two interwoven plot threads (a “fairly straightforward fantasy quest” and another that deals with “the metaphysics, the unseen forces that impact on the first”) and the use of “poetry and song” (successfully, he argues). He also discusses the fact that the novel makes considerable demands on a reader’s attention (as have other reviewers — all positively, I’m happy to say).

It’s the mystery that pulls you through the book, the desire to know how Hood can pull the story, the world, together.

His conclusion on this point suggests that, in order to enjoy the book fully, a reader needs to take a “mature” approach to reading and he suggests that such readers  “…don’t get annoyed when things aren’t handed to [them] on a plate.”Read the full review here.

“a tale of heroes”: Another Excellent Review

Kyla Ward has reviewed Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead on Tabula Rasa, displaying a wonderfully lyrical turn in describing the book — as we might have expected from a poet of her calibre. Take this, for example:

There are incredible depths to this world, depths that the novel’s plot skims like a pebble across a lake’s surface, gaining momentum with each skip.

The paragraph continues:

This is thanks to Hood’s skill at transmuting back story into exciting narrative vignettes: story-telling, reportage, bardic performance (with snarky commentary from Tashnark), memory, dream and hallucination induced by demon poison: all interwoven seamlessly with present events. The pace is truly frenetic, with running battles, storms and a ship-board zombie-wrestling sequence that can only be read, not described. If things ever slow, Tashnark can be relied upon to get them going again — he’s a gem of character, and the principal observer of how artificial all this heroism is.

I love this introductory summation:

This is a tale of heroes. It includes all sorts — born of the gods, descended from ancient, magical bloodline, member of a legendary order, reincarnated, last of their tribe and way too intimate with their own sentient weapon — cycling through various degrees of reluctant and unlikely. There is a villain, of course, although he’s thoroughly sick of the whole business; dark gods, giant monsters and an ancient magical artefact. But principally it is a tale of heroes, heroism and what it means to be in such an uncomfortable position.

Kyla’s conclusion?

As an interrogation of the assumptions of high fantasy rather than a parody, this book is a highly refreshing change. With its distinctive and not inaccurate Bob Eggleton cover, and solid production from Borgo Press, it makes a fine addition to Hood’s bibliography and the Australian fantasy canon.

But be sure read the full review here. Then, if you haven’t done so already, go and buy the novel.

“….a ship-board zombie-wrestling sequence that can only be read, not described.”

How can you resist?

Fragments First Official Event


On Saturday evening/night, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead wasn’t officially launched — that takes place at Conflux 9 in Canberra on Friday 26th April — but it had its inaugural official promotional event: a book signing in conjunction with a first birthday bash at Chuck McKenzie’s excellent bookshop Notions Unlimited in Chelsea, Victoria. Below is Chuck doing the honours:

Chuck_at_signingI didn’t say much, apart from “The book’s brilliant and a great read” and “You really should buy a copy” — at least not as part of a speech. I said plenty to anyone who asked, and to my delight they did. In attendance were some old friends, but also lots of strangers (to me anyway) and Chuck did a roaring trade in Fragments … well, maybe not a roaring trade, but it wasn’t a whimper either. I ended up signing a surprising number of copies (legitimately) and a few when Chuck wasn’t looking:


Afterwards I signed more copies for Chuck (he asked me to!) and some of them are still available in store.

In between I bought a heap of graphic novels, just to make Chuck happy… no, really! Look, somehow the pile kept getting bigger. Okay! Meanwhile, attendees ate cake, bought more books, drank, laughed, discussed whether or not Marvel should make a movie featuring Deadpool. My ever-supportive partner Cat Sparks took some great pictures and all was right with the world.

Check out all Cat’s pictures here.

There’s this strange thing that authors do once their book appears in a bookshop — they take note of the books surrounding it on the shelves. Here’s mine:

Fragments-shelvedWilliam Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and other books, such as a collection of Carnacki stories, Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (which was filmed in 1986 as Angel Heart), some of Susan Hill’s books, including her great ghost tale, Woman in Black, Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts — even some Robert E. Howard tomes. Terrific company!




Thirteen O’Clock Review a Sizzler

Andrew J. McKiernan’s review of Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead on the review website Thirteen O’Clock not only gives the novel a big tick, but makes some pretty insightful observations about its strengths in the process.

I have absolutely no objection to being mentioned in the same ball-park as the likes of Fritz Leiber, William Hope Hodgson, M. John Harrison and H.P. Lovecraft!

The reviewer’s conclusion:

Overall, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead is a brilliant fantasy novel of the type we seldom get to read these days. Dense and exotic and full of ideas. It’s also full of sword & sorcery action too, and the type of cosmic horror that leaves you paranoid about your own reality. Really, what more could you ask for in a book?

Read the full review here.