The Grave Robbers Chronicles Vol.1 Cavern of the Blood Zombies by Xu Lei


I always like to try something new an out of the ordinary especially when it comes to my reading tastes. So when I was browsing for something out of the ordinary in terms of zombie fiction I wanted to look for something completely different in terms what zombie fiction is. Most people who read zombie fiction and the people who write them usually follow a template which was first created in 1968 by the great horror filmmaker George Romaro and his hit movie Night of the living dead. Mostly the plots of zombie fiction centers around the whole world being taken over (or is about to be taken over) by the undead AKA. the Zombie apocalypse, and how we as humans try to find our place in this new and daunting world hence survival. There has been some excellent works out there like Max Brooks World War Z and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comics, but after a while most of this genre really starts to sound the same. The zombies in this form of fiction are either really slow and dumb relying on the need to only eat human flesh, or they are fast and dumb with the same basic instinct. Some authors also try to give zombies personalities which in essence “they aren’t zombies any more they are still humans with a condition”.

Now I am a huge lover of Chinese folklore and Chinese literature, so much so that I am trying to learn Mandarin so I can sink my teeth into their rich and vibrant storytelling tradition. Now what is interesting is how the Chinese view the undead and zombies in particular. One of my favorite monsters is the Jiang-shi or Chinese hopping vampire. The Jiang-shi goes against the western stereotype of what is a zombie is and how a zombie should react thus creating a new and different form of zombie which is a great change in terms of storytelling and can completely add freshness and originality to an already stale genre. {For more information  on the Jiang-shi I am going to link you to our post on the subject in Karen’s Folklore Tidbits here on the The Stranger’s Bookshelf.}



So when I was fervently looking for new zombie fiction, I had this idea of what I was looking for in mind, and as I like to say let the quest begin. I began to look for zombie fiction out of China and one day while browsing my local library’s website I came across Xu Lei’s The Grave robbers Chronicles Vol.1 Cavern of the Blood Zombies and started to read the blurb that was on the back of the book

“Uncle Three loves good food, good booze, good card games, and bad women-and he’s never found a grave he wouldn’t rob. He can’t help it-it’s in his blood-grave robbing has been the family business for centuries. So when his bookseller nephew comes to him with a map to an ancient tomb, Uncle Three sets off to find it, in the company of some grave-robbing colleagues, his nerdy nephew, and a strange poker-faced guy that nobody can quite figure out. Uncle Three knows that the grave he seeks will lead him and his companions to “another kind of world,” but not even he could ever imagine what they are about to find. Lost in a labyrinthine cavern that is full of dead bodies, Uncle Three and his comrades fight for their lives as they come up against vampires, corpse-eating bugs, and blood zombies.”

The fact that it is ranked as a best selling series in China also helped with me choosing to pick it up and read it. “I also recently found out that The Grave Robber’s Chronicles is also a bestselling Manhua  and the characters in the book and Manhua are frequently cosplayed at conventions and in photo-shoots.”

An add for the manhua depiction the characters of the series.

An add for the manhua depiction the characters of the series.

Below is Cos-players depicting characters from the series



Now after reading this book I was truly surprised. This book is definitely horror and has zombies in it, scary ones too at that; but they are not quite Jiang-shi. Jiang-shi are also implied in the story as well by the way. To me the best description of what a blood zombie looks and acts like are the Lickers ( the bio-experiments that were created by the t- virus in the first Resident evil film). But what I did find though is that Xu Lei’s Cavern of the Blood Zombies is one of the best adventure books I have read. I tell you I came away from this book going wow. I mean the best way to describe this book is to take the best parts of The Mummy Series and Indiana Jones, mix them with the best in Hong Kong supernatural films like A Chinese Ghost Story Series and Zu Warriors by Tsui Hark. [By the way I could totally see this being turned into a movie with Tsui Hark at the helm, hint hint] Add to the mix the folklore of Pu Songling’s Strange tales of the Chinese studio and Taoist geomancy, and Chinese dynasty history and magic and Boom you get this series.

The book itself reads like a tomb crawl, straight out of Laura Croft’s world or one of the best pen and paper roleplaying campaigns you have ever played. There are monsters at every corner, traps and magic galore to thwart unwanted grave robbers as well as heroes like Uncle Three and his nephew who use only their wits and generations of knowledge and training in the family business of “grave robbing” to keep them alive. The plot itself is a page turner. As Seen through the eyes of Uncle three’s nephew  and written in a first person perspective. I found that the pace was really constant and exciting.


Fan art depicting the character Menyouping aka. Poker face in another scene from the book

Xu Lie also creates very realistic and believable characters, who have faults and frailties. Characters who not only you can relate with but who you want to root for. What is also really fascinating is that Xu lei has taken great pains and a lot of research to explain to the reader about the different periods and dynasties in Chinese history, especially in terms of archaeology and tomb excavation. So as you are reading, Xu Lei explains to you the difference of what a Qin tomb and what a  Second Zhou tomb are like or what artifacts from the Tang period would look like; so you know what to look for as the story develops.In fact I feel this added element of good research and character development adds a deeper layer to the story especially for non Chinese readers who are fascinated by the mysteries and exploration of Chinese Archaeology and tomb exploration.

Author Xu Lei

Author Xu Lei

Another added depth to Cavern of the Blood Zombies is the dark gothic like illustrations by Neo Lok Sze Wong which are dotted through out the book. His use of dark muddy colors and luminescence really creates and eerie atmosphere. It feels like the artist was drawing from memory of what it was like standing in the tomb with the characters of the book giving the book a dark mood like claustrophobic feel.

Fan art depicting a scene from the book

Fan art depicting a scene from the book

I also found that Kathy Mok  does a wonderful translation of Xu Lei’s work into English. Translating is a art unto it self, trying to keep the feel and tone and expressions of another culture, yet trying to explain it to a different culture that has a completely different writing system and way of expression can be quite a daunting task. Many translators and translations usually lose something along the way because of this, thus changing the feel and pacing of the story all together. Kathy Mok translation is very good, especially in the fact that she makes makes it easier for westerners readers to understand some of the cultural differences between China and other cultures. Cultural differences  like like Face, burial rights, Chinese geomancy, Chinese imperial history and folklore with out either dumbing it down or taking away from the story, thus creating a translation that is close to the original.


A scene from the manhua series

To be honest, if this is what the new writers of China are like, I say that we need more translations of Chinese fantasy and horror literature. Books like this are storytelling at it’s best and I can truly see why this is one of the best series in China. Why have English publishers not cottoned onto this fabulous market. We as readers would surely enjoy books like this and other fantasy and horror works from China much better than the “same old same old” zombie fiction that they have been feeding us over and over. I mean this book was so good I could not put this book down even if I tried!!! It was that good. I even have vol. 2 Angry Sea, Hidden Sands lined up to read next on my nightstand and I am hovering with anticipating for when I am going to read it.

The manhua depiction of the main character

The manhua depiction of the main character

So if you want to try something fresh and exciting in terms of adventure fantasy and horror go out and pick up The Grave Robbers chronicles vol. 1 Cavern of blood by Xu lei and be prepared to be wowed by the great treasure that comes all the way from China, I guarantee you will be excavating for the rest of the series like me.

The rest of Grave Robbers’ Chronicles that is so far translated in to English.

bk-grcvol2 Vol. 2 Angry Seas, Hidden Sands

gr3 Vol.3 Bronze Tree of Death

51AoOhv5I0L Vol.4 Palace of Doom

If you loved The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles and want to know more about the folklore involved I highly recommend reading

strange-tales-from-a-chinese-studio-penguin-classics-20795259 Pu Songling- Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (It has some of the best Chinese folktales and ghost stories that came out of China. A Chinese Ghost Story and several other of China’s great horror movies came from the stories in this book)


Posted on February 6, 2014, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. This is the review I always hoped for when I first began to edit this series! Your knowledge of the genre and of Chinese history far surpasses my own, although I’ve learned more than I knew at the beginning of the Grave Robbers’ Chronicles! Thank you so much! I hope you will have time to look at our facebook page for the Grave Robbers’ Chronicles where I just posted a link to your review. You’ve made my day with this–please let me know if I can send you any of the volumes in this series that you haven’t yet read by leaving me a message on the facebook page.
    Janet Brown
    Editor at ThingsAsian Press

    • Dear Janet: Thank you so much for your kind comments about our review and posting a link on Facebook. I am really looking forward to reading more of the series as it is a breath of fresh air and is now one of my favorite series of all times.

  2. thanks a lot for the you happened to know where can i download the novel?i’ve searched everywhere in the net but couldn’y find the novel.thanks Dian

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