Attention horror fans! Are you looking for some summer reading that includes such things as flesh-eating zombies, apocalyptic doom, gory battles, corrupt soldiers, and kick-ass come-backs? Look no further than Brian Keene’s The Rising. Winner of the Bram Stoker award, Keene is a promising new talent in the genre. He has been praised by and compared to such monumental figures as Richard Laymon and Stephen King, but he certainly has his own style. Unlike King, Keene keeps most of his books at a strict length of about 300 pages, which makes his books fast food for the avid horror junkie. While his writing in general is not particularly ground-breaking, his descriptions leave the reader tantalized, as do the particularly horrifying moments of zombie feasting.
The book’s protagonist, Jim Thurmond, decides to leave his safe shelter and venture into an outside world where the population is now composed of the living dead. While there is really not much of an explanation of how this apocalyptic setting came to be, we become entangled in Jim’s quest to rescue his son, who lives hundreds of miles away, despite the overwhelming numbers of undead he must face in order to get there. Tracing the survival stories of a few lucky survivors including a priest, an ex-prostitute, and a scientist who may have been responsible for the current state of life (or should I say death?), Keene weaves a path through each of them and eventually they join together to aid Jim in his quest. However, there are bumps along to road, to be sure! Encounter after encounter with the evil dead will be enough to satisfy anyone seeking a gore fix. A page-turner from the start, this book will not disappoint. But be warned that Keene’s zombies are not the traditional, slow, mindless eating machines created by George Romero; Keene’s zombies are the product of something far worse, and far more evil. These zombies speak of their origin—a place called “the void” which is so old that these souls were in existence before God created the world. They seek to destroy all life and inhabit the soul-less bodies themselves. They speak, drive cars, and use weapons. Keene’s reinvention makes the book more interesting to those of us used to the traditional zombie.
While I don’t think I could agree with the comment that Keene is “the next Stephen King,” he certainly has promise. King, while criticized sometimes for his mammoth novels, develops his characters to such an extent that one often wonders how fictional they may be. This is one of the greatest appeals in King’s work: the connection between the reader and his characters, who we see on a personal, and sometimes even shockingly personal level. One thing I’ve always noticed about King’s work (which to me is the scariest aspect) is not the creatures he conjures or the thing lurking in the dark (though you must admit—IT was pretty horrifying) but the atrocities that people inflict upon one another. Keene definitely picks up on this with his description of the madness in the soldiers who are supposed to protect and serve. If he took a bit more time to develop his characters—get even more personal with them—I think it would take his writing to the next level.
The book’s ending is a huge cliff-hanger. Despite how much I enjoyed reading the book and my need to know what happened next, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed with the ending that, while poetic, was rather abrupt and left me thirsty (or should I say hungry? Ravenous?) for more. Perhaps there will be a sequel? I sincerely hope so.