First published back in April of 2003, US author Brian Keene’s debut novel ‘The Rising’ proved to be an ambitious first novel, later spawning the sequels ‘City Of The Dead’ (2005), ‘The Rising: Selected Scenes From The End Of The World’ (2006) and ‘The Rising: Deliverance’ (2010).
It all started to fall apart when a secret team of scientists experimented with a particle accelerator in an attempt to recreate the Big Bang. However, unbeknown to the scientists, they were tearing open a gaping maw in the fabric of the universe, which would allow demons to come into our world from The Void. Once on our planet, these ungodly demons would take over the bodies of the dead and from there commence war upon Earth’s inhabitants.
And soon enough the first reports of reanimated corpses started to crop up around the world. At first no one believed what was being said. And then before the population had chance to come to terms with what was happening, the walking dead were upon them, and they were hungry for the flesh of the living.
Society collapsed in a matter of days. Those that have a chance to hide away were soon all that remained of humanity. And that’s exactly what the construction worker, Jim Thurmond, did. Holed up in a private bomb shelter, Thurmond waited out the early days of the apocalypse, listening to the endless taunting of the undead outside the secured enclosure. Depression hit him hard. He was alone and had no idea if his young son, Danny, was still alive. Thoughts of suicide in the face of such widespread horror seemed more and more like his best option. And then the call from his son came in. Danny was alive and hiding out with his mother, Thurmond’s first wife, in upstate New Jersey.
Jim Thurmond now has a purpose in life once again. A motivation. And he won’t let anything get in his way in reaching his son. And so he leaves the relative security of the bomb shelter, kitted out with whatever supplies he could carry for the long journey across America. A journey that would hopefully lead him to his son.
Meanwhile, Professor Baker is trapped inside the very same underground laboratory where the disastrous experiment that brought about this worldwide apocalypse was performed. And it’s here, via the possessed corpse of one of his colleagues, that the guilt-ridden scientist has the unique opportunity to speak with one of the demons that infiltrated their world. And there is much to learn. For if this talking corpse is to be believed, it carries the soul of the demons’ powerful leader – Ob. And the demons will stop at absolutely nothing in their pursuit to make the planet another apocalyptic hell for them to dominate.
Elsewhere, Jim Thurmond has met up with an elderly black minister by the name of Reverend Thomas Martin, who has found himself alone in this dangerous new world. The pastor agrees to join Thurmond in his mission to reach New Jersey, but all of a sudden their journey is brought into jeopardy when a marauding band of hillbilly cannibals capture the two men for their flesh.
Jim Thurmond’s plan to once again meet with his son is looking bleak in the face of everything that threatens to kill them. The streets are full of the demon possessed undead, the woodlands are teaming with zombiefied wildlife, vicious undead birds flock across the skies above them, and flesh-hungry cannibal hillbillies are after their meat. And worse still, from out of Pennsylvania, a ruthless and sadistic army of what is left of the National Guard are gradually working their way across the land, raping and killing as they go, with their ‘Meat Wagon’ becoming a hell-on-wheels for any surviving women that they encounter. Led by the psychotic Colonel Schow, the corrupted army are quickly becoming a far greater danger to the remaining survivors of America than even the demonic undead pose.
Hell has come to the Earth. The apocalypse is here, and the danger is coming at those that are left from all angles. And in amongst the rising war between mankind and the demonically possessed undead, Jim Thurmond is fighting his way to New Jersey where he has a promise he is determined to keep...
First thing that needs to be said about Keene’s ‘The Rising’ is how much of a mould-breaking addition to the zombie apocalypse subgenre it is. It’s a novel that has proven to split the hardcore zombie fans in two. Like with David Wellington’s ‘Monster’ (2004-2005) series, the novel goes by its own rules and it completely redefines the zombie threat; adding (amongst other things) undead wildlife into the already terrifying equation.
At first, the novel sets out like it’s going to be a poor-man’s-rip-off of Richard Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’ (1954), with Jim Thurmond taking up the role of Robert Neville - trapped inside the confines of a property, with the undead (in this case zombies as opposed to vampires) ceaselessly taunting our protagonist from outside the secure premises.
However, it’s not long before the chaotic madness of Keene’s ramped-up zombie apocalypse really gets in full swing, with the explanation of ‘Ob’ and his fellow demons crossing over from The Void into our world, and subsequently possessing any dead bodies that they can get their demonic mitts on. And oh my do you get a blood-soaked-bucket load of fun with this. We’ve got zombiefied birds, beasts and rodents. The streets are overrun with ambling undead humans who can talk, plot, use weapons and drive motor vehicles. The woods and countryside are equally as dangerous, with the reanimated wildlife offering up a whole new zombie threat. And if that isn’t bad enough – Keene throws in some good-old-fashioned cannibal rednecks and a psychotic military unit that makes Robert McCammon’s Army Of Excellence from his epic post-apocalyptic novel ‘Swan Song’ (1987) seem like a happy-go-lucky troupe of girl guides.
Keene is an absolute master of creating utterly explosive horror intermixed with a wild imagination for the most extraordinary of plots. Zombie apocalypse novels so often trundle along down the same old weary well-worn tracks. Only very rarely do we see an author really step outside of the box with the rules and defining capabilities of our undead friends. David Wellington also ventured into unknown territory with his re-defined version of a zombie, within his ‘Monster’ (2004-2005) trilogy; the end result splitting the core zombie fanbase. And Keene did the same, only Keene’s re-working warped and redefined his zombies to an even more elaborate degree. And I know that I am not alone in saluting the man for doing this. Keene injected some much needed life into those cold, dead veins. It’s a brave move – but one which has undoubtedly paid off for the author since.
Although Keene’s writing dives straight in to the thick of it wherever and whenever it can, it often falls foul of lacking in any real depth or development. This is most notable with the characterisation and dialogue, where we are subjected to cliché after cliché after chuckle-worthy cliché; with the characters all fulfilling cartoonish roles that are (if we’re honest about it) completely sapped of any real emotion or noticeable originality.
Furthermore, our principal protagonist, Jim Thurmond, has a tendency to become a bit tiresome at times, with his incessant bleating on and on about meeting up with his son. The character’s motivation was set down pretty darn strongly from the start of the tale, so the constant reminders of his mission soon become boring; his response to any questions or dilemmas that occur en route, painfully predictable.
But the novel’s nevertheless one hell of a rollercoaster of a ride. There’s a threat around every corner. Our characters are permanently on the run. The action is rich with excitement and intensity. And Colonel Schow’s despicable army just increases this adrenaline-junkies wet-dream of a tale tenfold.
The tale ends with a magnificent cliff-hanger that pretty much guarantee’s the purchase of the sequel – ‘City Of The Dead’ (2005). Nothing is resolved and nothing is tied off. It’s a completely open ending that simply sets up the action for the sequel to proceed with. Okay, so this is annoying for some, with the novel not offering its own self-contained conclusion. But it is what it is. It works well alongside its sequel, and together, the two novels make up for one hell of an adventures and imaginative zombie apocalypse romp.
The novel runs for a total of 321 pages.
© DLS Reviews