For Christmas this year I asked for a bunch of zombie books and superhero books, and I got some. One of the zombie books I got was The Rising by Brian Keene. Its your traditional “zombies are overrunning everything” story that you see in movies all the time. Or at least so it appears… In this book zombies aren’t the mindless corpses seeking flesh and stumbling around of Night of the Living Dead. They’re not even the beastial “Brains!” zombies of Return of the Living Dead. These are closer to the deadites of the Evil Dead movies (1, 2 and Army of Darkness). They work together, they talk, they plan. They fire guns and drive cars. But they still have only one goal… kill everyone.
The book starts with Jim Thurmond, locked away in the fall out shelter he built in his back yard for Y2K. Jim decides he’s going to head outside and try to get away when his cell phone rings and just before the battery dies he hears his son, who lives with Jim’s ex-wife, plead for help, saying that he’s hiding in the attic, mommy is sick, and Rick (the stepfather) is a monster. This sets Jim off on a journey that takes him from West Virginia to New Jersey to save his son.
Jim isn’t the only character we meet. There is Martin, a reverend, who meets up with Jim fairly early. Frankie, a junky whore, whose trying to survive the living dead and kicking heroine cold turkey. And Baker, a scientist who might just be partly responsible for the whole damn thing. There are a number of other points of view, some very brief, to fill out the tale, and Mr. Keene weave the stories together beautifully (if rather depressingly), and keeps you at the edge of your seat wondering what could possibly happen next.
The book was so good, I ran out and picked up the second (and final) book, City Of The Dead , because I just had to know how it ended.
Now, I’m going to go into alot more detail, so I’ll warn you… ** Spoilers Ahead!! **
Both of these books make one hell of an impressive tale. The first book is all about getting to Jim’s son Danny. Although, they don’t save him in the first book. It ends in a very bleak spot with Jim running into the house, shots fired, screams, Frankie and Martin charging in as zombies poor out of the neighboring houses… Its up in the air. These people fight, and fight hard, getting to New Jersey and there isn’t a “good” payoff. There is still a payoff… for one Jim, Martin and Frankie actually survive. Survive what? Oh, there is this whole huge chunk about some former National Guard troops who have decided they are going to save the world… by force, enslaving people they find and looking for a place where they hunker down and defend until this whole undead thing blows over. These guys are ruthless, they use captured women as “entertainment” and I mean that in the worst possible way, and they use men for slave labor building barricades and maybe promoting them if they show they are worthwhile (read that as “kind of an evil dick too”). They represent pretty much the worst parts of humanity (except for cannibalism, but that shows up in a couple of hicks who save Jim and Martin at one point only because they want some fresh meat).
Baker is in fact responsible for this whole undead mess. His lab ran an experiment with a super collider that caused the wall between dimensions to weaken. See, these aren’t just dead bodies, these are ancient created-by-God-before-he-created-man beasties who are pissed because God banned them to “the void” where they could only sit and watch as man messed around wasting their lives. Now, with the wall weakened, these creatures can slip in and take over the body of someone whose soul has just left. They inhabit the brain and control the corpse. And they have a leader, Ob, who plans to take out all life… oh, did I forget to mention one of Brian Keene’s little surprises? Animals are zombies too. Dogs, cats, deer, bears, birds, you name it…
So anyway, the first book is like a crazy run-for-your-life travelogue from West Virginia to New Jersey. And then, as I said, it ends with a “will they make it?” ending. City of the Dead picks up about 10 minutes BEFORE the end of the first book, giving you a nice catch up of book one just in case you aren’t reading them back to back. This time you find out what happens. Turns out Danny is alive! He’s been hiding in the attic, his mother died and he’s been keeping real quiet trying not to draw attention to himself. One of Danny’s neighbors is alive too, but he’s been oblivious sitting in his panic room… at least until the gunfire starts. Jim shoots his zombie ex-wife in the head and finds Danny, then Martin and Frankie come in and slam the door. Zombies surround the house, break in, a bunch die, then they decide its not worth the fight and just set the house on fire. The neighbor, Mr. De Santos, decides to come out of his hidey hole and helps them scamper over a ladder to his place. The five of them get into De Santos’ SUV and make a break for it. Zombies chase, they get into a wreck, Martin dies, and a helicopter shows up… flown by regular humans who wisk them away to the Ramsey Building in New York, where a couple hundred people are living, waiting for this whole zombie thing to pass over…
Needless to say, they eventually find out that the zombies are just sort of the first wave. When animal and human life is dead, the second wave comes in and does the same thing to the insects and plants. And when the bugs and plants are all dead, the third wave is going to come in and burn the planet into cinders. The Apocalypse, or something close enough. Once in the tower you meet a whole bunch of new people, and Keene gives you just enough to make you like them (or most of them anyway) right before Ob shows up and charges his army in through the front gates. Once again the book keeps you on the edge of your seat, pissing you off every time someone else falls. As a handful of people flee into the sewers, it becomes appearant that either this is going to be the most miraculous save every written into a book, or nobody is going to make it.
These two books tell an excellent story full of everything you could want from a book about zombies or human struggle against impossible odds. Its also depressing as hell, with only tiny rays of hope. I highly recommend these books, but I caution readers to be ready for a story unlike anything they’ve read before or probably will again.