In an unspecified future, two years have passed since a mysterious incident called the Ecuador Explosion, which resulted in 99% of the human population turning into zombies. Emily Campbell, along with other survivors in what used to be California, spends her days between the elimination of zombies that now swarm the cities and trying to destroy communes of vampires (said vampires revealed themselves to the world as it was ending and frequently recruit humans as slaves they can feed on in exchange for "protection").
But not all of those missions go right. One, in fact, goes horribly wrong, in which Emily is bitten by a zombie… But something else goes wrong: while her body becomes zombified − making people obviously wary of her − her mind remains entirely human. A case on which Death himself − who is an actual, sentient being − is stumped. And Death has issues of his own: for some reason he also lost his horse, his scythe and most of his powers, and the cycle of life and death has been thrown off balance by the new dominance of the undead. His and Emily's only hope seems to be a cure presumably developed in Manhattan, last bastion of human life where the Life Preservation Initiative (LPI), which Emily is a member of, has its headquarters. These two non-human beings whose ways of thinking don't quite align will have to form an uncanny alliance and travel across the continent to restore the rule of life… and death.
But they aren't they only ones aiming for Manhattan: Leif, a rogue vampire at odds with his brethren, and Scott, a human accompanied by a sentient gynoid named Carol, also pursue their own goals there. The paths of those three parties will cross and mingle in a strange, dark sci-fi fantasy adventure.
The Immortal Journey is a trilogy of books by Elisa Hansennote , The Company of Death being its first entry, published in January 2019. While the book starts as your classic Zombie Apocalypse horror story, the tone eventually switches to a more fantastical and whimsical story, filled with deadpan banter and quirky characters, while keeping a sense of tension and drama.
Tropes featured in The Company of Death
- Affably Evil: Leif wants nothing more than to sink his teeth in a juicy human neck, which the plot consistently denies him, but other than that he's really genial and polite, bantering and joking around. Even when he's trying to blow up his own comrades.
- After the End: The story starts two years after a Zombie Apocalypse, when killing the undead has already become a routine for the few surviving humans.
- Attractive Zombie: Zig-zagged in Scott's point of view. The first time he meets Emily, he's just horrified and scared shitless, as she has all the grey, shrunken skin, Tainted Veins and sunken, milky eyes of a walking corpse. But once he gets slightly more comfortable with her − and when she isn't facing him − he starts to ogle her a little bit and think that she still has a fairly nice body… for an undead woman.
- Big Damn Heroes: Leif of all people saves the heroes at the very end when they're seemingly stuck in the middle of a zombie horde. It's left deliberately ambiguous whether he set the horde on them in the first place for Engineered Heroics.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Death only cares about preserving what he calls the "balance". He doesn't mind a lot of people dying (obviously, he's Death), but he can't accept death being replaced by "undeath" − in the form of zombies or vampires − since he can no longer reap those lives even if they are "killed".
- Buffy Speak: Mostly prominent in the Scott chapters' narration, which notably give us this gem:Fuck Colin and his fucking bald-headed, girlfriend-stealing, shipseat-stealing, bald-headed baldness.
- But Not Too Foreign: Emily is half-Fillipino from her mother, which apparently makes her more attractive to vampires (hence why she's initially chosen to take part in Mission 12). Several of her teammates also have some kind of Hispanic or central American heritage since the early parts of the story take place in southern California.
- Demonic Spiders: In-Universe, there are normal zombies, called the "slow ones", and then there is a minority of "fast ones", which are much harder to deal with and have killed several crucial members in Emily's squad. It is later explained that the fast ones were initially humans bitten by vampires.
- Developing Doomed Characters: The first quarter of the book is almost entirely spent with Emily and her squad preparing for the dreaded "Misson 12", the inflitration of a vampire commune by using three team members as bait. We see Emily interact with Ramon the squad leader, her friend Rosa, the Hot-Blooded Sherice, Daisy the merciless instructor and Carlos, who's scared out of his wits after seeing Death with his own eyes. We get attached to this team as a family, each member having their own doubts and issues. When they stumble across a small travelling commune and they naïvely try to wipe it out − not expecting the vampires to use hordes of zombies as a defensive weapon −, mission 12 is aborted and absolutely none of them survive (they are even Killed Offscreen). Emily "survives", but not in the way she hoped. That point also coincides with the book's relative tone shift, due to the sheer absurdity of the situation Emily finds herself in.
- Don't Fear the Reaper: Death is overall a pretty chill guy, only a little distant and sometimes hard to communicate with considering his slight fixation on Insistent Terminology. Being deprived of a job he had been doing for millenia overnight certainly didn't help.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Daisy is described as this for Emily's unit, putting them through a Training from Hell that Emily begrudingly thanks for her survival. As a slight subversion, Daisy apparently sports a wicked smile even during the brutal sessions.
- Driven to Suicide: After the operation to kill the vampires went awry and her squad was seemingly wiped out, Emily decides to ends things on her own terms, and Death appears before her, ready to reap her life. Then Ramon calls her on the radio.
- Feminist Fantasy: The protagonist is female, but even outside of her none of the women in this story are to be trifled with. Daisy the instructor is stated to be the main reason Emily's team hasn't gone soft, Carol regularly rebuffs the man she bodyguards, her maker Nicole is an extremely gifted Wrench Wench (Carol's impossibly advanced AI was created by another woman), and the leader of the Manhattan vampires is also female.
- Insistent Terminology: Death doesn't "kill" people, he "reaps" them. In other words, he doesn't directly causes the deaths but makes sure they happen at the scheduled time. He's also very adamant about not refering to zombies as "dead" but as "undead", since they are technically two very different things. These vocabulary details cause Emily to pull out her hair more than once when Death keeps correcting her mid-sentence.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: The narration in the Scott chapters insistently refers to Leif as an "it", not a "he" after their first encounter, to emphasize his fear and disgust of the vampire.
- Lie Back and Think of England: Downplayed. Emily notes that she mostly sees sex as something to please her partners rather than herself, implying that she might be biromantic but asexual… like the author herself, coincidentally.
- Not Using the "Z" Word: Defied. Emily first refuses to call the flesh eaters "zombies", making up all sorts of semantic excuses to claim that they're technically something else. Daisy calls bullshit on all of that and tells her straight up that yes, they're zombies and she should deal with it.
- Purple Prose: Played with; the Leif chapters' narration tends to feature a more sophisticated vocabulary to fit his pseudo-refined personality as well as the fact he's centuries old.
- Ridiculously Human Robot: While Carol considers it her mission to protect Scott, she still has enough emotions and free will to frequently act against his opinions and get irritated when he insults her. It's implied that her personality is largely based on her own creator's, Scott's sister Nicole.
- Rotating Protagonist: From around the quarter point on, the story constantly switches between three points of view − Emily and her squad (later Emily and Death), Leif's tribulations, and Scott and Carol. This allows not only for some differences in the tone and writing style of the narration, but also for some perspective tricks − notably, zombie!Emily's inhuman appearance only becomes fully evident when she is described from Scott's point of view.
- Undeathly Pallor: A distinctive trait of vampires is their extremely white and unnaturally soft skin, while Emily's skin becomes permanently gray-ish after her… little accident.
- Vampiric Draining: Vampires use humans who come to them as both menial servants or guards and as a food source in exchange for giving those humans a shelter against zombies. Supposedly. They can technically feed on the blood of any animal, including other vampires, but none is as tasty or nutritious as human blood, hence why they avoid killing their humans considering how few are left.
- With Friends Like These...: Death tries to ask for help regaining his horse with his brethren War, Famine and Pestilence only to find out that they where the ones who made that case to Time to revoke his title. While Death sees his role as integral to a cosmic balance, War, Famine and Pestilence are only concerned with themselves, seeing a world populated by the undead as a perpetual motion machine for which to feed on.
- Younger Than They Look: Despite being the squad leader and something of a mentor figure for Emily, Ramon is only 23, two years younger than she is.