Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
The Rising was Brian Keene’s first book. It is often regarded as his best novel. However, arguments can be made for both Ghoul and The Conqueror Worms to also hold that coveted position. Regardless, many of Keene’s books have been hailed as modern day classics. The Rising is certainly among them.
The Rising is a non-traditional zombie tale. As with most zombie tales, it maintains the notion of a world-wide pandemic in which the dead rise up against the living. Those who remain in the post-apocalypse are forced to survive off what they can forage from abandoned grocery stores and hunting in the surrounding woodlands. The only way to put a zombie down for good is with a shot to the head.
The twist comes in that these zombies are not mindless automatons. They are inhabited by demons imbued with the knowledge of their hosts. They can speak, use tools, set traps, etc… Furthermore, the infection does not stop with humankind, but has spread to the surrounding wildlife. There are zombie rats, birds, and even zombie deer. The only advantage man has against the undead plague is that, due to rot, these creatures move slower than they had in life.
Centered of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the novel follows several different story arcs, each of which includes a distinct set of characters. These characters consist of a junkie, a priest, a scientist, a father, and a soldier, among many others. All are fully fleshed out and relatable to the reader.
Emphasis within The Rising is on world-building and by spreading the story amongst a fairly diverse set of characters, Keene allows the reader to delve deeply into the setting he has created. Through the scientist, the reader understands the infection’s origins and the demons’ desires. Through others, the reader sees both the humanity and inhumanity of the situation. Underlying all of these trials and tribulations is the notion of faith.
The different storylines come together at the conclusion of the novel. Conclusion is really not the correct term to describe the ending. The Rising is intentionally left as an open-ended cliff hanger coinciding with the faith theme. One must have faith that the father will find his son and that together the group will survive the end of the world. If a cliff-hanger is not your thing, that is okay. Keene wrote a sequel which ties things up quite nicely: City of the Dead.
Overall, The Rising is a must read for fans of the zombie subgenre. It is an original and refreshing take on the zombie holocaust, which holds up to anything Kirkman or Brooks have ever written. Moreover, the novel has appeal to others not-so-smitten with the walking dead, as the demon element also fits within the cosmic horror and demonic possession subgenres of horror literature. If you haven’t read it, you need to.