Jim Thurmond is locked in an underground shelter that he built for Y2K, in Virginia. The zombie invasion is already in full swing. His dead pregnant wife is outside pawing on the door and calling his name.
Going mad and on the verge of suicide Jim gets a call from his son from his first marriage in New York. The boy is trapped in the attic of his house with the dead step-father trying to break the door down. The cell battery dies. Knowing his son is alive rejuvenates him and he vows to escape his bunker and make it to his son to save him. On his way he meets up with an elderly preacher left to defend gods will, an ex-junkie prostitute from Baltimore (including scenes in the Baltimore Zoo), and a scientist who is responsible for the breach that allows the zombies to invade and cross over.
To give you an idea of Keene’s resolve and willingness to go all the way, when Jim escapes the bunker he comes into direct contact with his dead wife. She pulls back her robe and reveals that her belly has been gnawed open by the zombie baby creating a large cavity. He pleads with his wife to stop then is forced to kill both her and the unborn child, whom he finds out only now, is a girl. Keene doesn’t treat such an event lightly; he presents all of the moral difficulties in clear light. Jim’s decision isn’t an easy one, nor should it be, and Keene lets it carry the appropriate weight and importance.
The action kicks off right on the first page and the barrage of action, suspense and adventure never once let up. The Rising is relentless in its assault on the reader. But it’s much more then a catalog of violent confrontations with the recent dead. Brian Keene is a solid writer with a sharp eye for detail and those quiet moments that make human contact and our relationships real. As the shreds of humanity bond together it’s the strengthening or the exploiting of these bonds that will define the individuals involved and humanity as a whole.
One new twist that Keene adds to the zombie canon, which could very well have turned into a gimmick, was to have animals that were zombies. This could have fallen on its face but Keene shows us very quickly that undead animals are just as scary, if not at times more so, then their (un)human counterparts. This being my first Keene novel I quickly learned to trust in his imagination as he fully explore this idea.
Normally the reason behind the origin of the zombies is biological in nature, but Keene presents us with an enigmatic world where demons (for lack of a better term), that had been banished to a hellish existence on another plane by god, have broken through to our world inhabiting our dead bodies. They indiscriminately kill to provide more vessels for their fallen brethren.
Unlike Romero’s plodding zombies Keene’s are possessed of a certain level of intelligence. They are fast when need be, or more specifically when the body allows it. They communicate with each other. They can operate motor vehicles, weapons and machinery. All of this escalates the level of tension if not downright claustrophobia when are human protagonists are faced with a legion of zombies. The zombies also retain the memories of the host body which allows for some unsettling moments when a demon is articulating something and the bodies old memories keep interjecting.
There is a larger back story at work here. The zombies are becoming increasingly organized and centrally located in major cities. They also seem to be able to communicate with each other over long distances though it isn’t clear yet if it is some sort of telepathy or if the undead animals act as messengers. Plus the full back story of the demons: their relationship to god and their pure hatred of humans isn’t fully explained yet, with only dark hints being provided.
Without dealing in specifics the ending is abrupt. It just stops in mid action, with no explanation or even an indication that there is a sequel to The Rising called The City of The Dead. I think this bears mentioning because without knowledge of the sequel this would cause many a reader to not like the book regardless of all the goodness that had come before