Review Date: October 18, 2011
Released by: Thomas Dunne Books
Release date: 10/11/2011
Hardcover, Softcover, e-book, audiobook
I am a Walking Dead
junkie. I have been reading the comic regularly since 2007, shortly before the collective shit hit the fan in the now infamous issue 48. I collect the omnibuses, buy the monthlies, trekked to Baltimore Comic Con two years straight (12 hour drive each way) to meet the creator, Robert Kirkman, and get lots of autographs from him. I even bought a Walking Dead
plush doll at New York Comic Con last year. So yeah, I'm a junkie. I'm not crazy about the TV show but I'm hoping it will hit its stride in Season Two. When Kirkman announced in late 2010 that three Walking Dead
novels would be hitting in 2011, with outlines by Kirkman himself and horror novelist Jay Bonansinga at the typewriter, I was excited. I've never read anything by Bonansinga but Kirkman has never steered the series too far off course. That most exciting aspect to the idea of Walking Dead
novels was to get some back stories and more insight into the characters - where they came from, who they were, and how they came to be who they are in the comic. And when the title of the first novel was announced, Rise of the Governor
, any fan of the comic is going to think: Jackpot!
Like everything, the idea of something and the reality of something are not always the same. After all, some things are best left to the imagination. Does the revelation of how a character came to be really help expand ones enjoyment of the series? And really, just how entertaining is the tale told? Lets have a look and find out.
Brian Blake is a coward. If it weren't for his younger brother Philip, Brian would still be hiding in his parents' closet, cowering in fear of the walking dead now roaming the earth. But Philip, always the tough guy, always the guy that gets things done, saves his brother from certain death. After all, he needs someone to babysit his young daughter, Penny. The three, along with Philip's two cronies, Nick and Bobby, are headed to Atlanta, where new reports indicate refugee centers are being setup. Along the way they stop at a rich suburb about twenty miles from Atlanta. They listen to the news reports but more and more stations turn to static, leaving them with little to no new news. Philip thinks it may be best to stay put for a bit; thinking it may be best to let the folks in the city fight it out for a while before they head in. Soon their sanctuary is safe no more, with biters pushing them along their way a bit sooner than anticipated.
The trek into Atlanta is slow going along roads littered with abandoned cars. The group eventually arrives in Atlanta but the city has fallen to the living dead and is now overrun. It's dicey and the group struggles with many close encounters before meeting up with the Chalmers family, a group of survivors holed up in an apartment building. The Chalmers consists of David, the father, and his two daughters, April and Tara. Philip and crew settle in with the Chalmers and believe they may just have found someplace to settle down for a while until they decide on a next step. After some careful and not so careful planning, the group begins to venture out into the city to gather supplies. Philip, Nick, Bobby, and even Brian start clearing out the upper floors that had been occupied by zombies. Perhaps most importantly, the stability brings some much needed stress relief for Penny, a child that has been more atrocities than a soldier sees in wartime, coupled with the deteriorating humanity from her father. Penny has also started to bond with April; Philip is genuinely touched by the affection she lavishes upon Penny. But Philip is Philip and can't leave well enough alone. He's makes a mistake, one that can't be fixed, and the quintet find themselves on the other end of a gun barrel being shown the door. Out on the zombie infested streets of Atlanta and with no supplies or weapons, the group has no choice but to move on.
The group is able to secure some motorcycles and manage to make their way out of the city and take refuge at a lone, isolated villa surrounded by fruit orchards. They discover ample amounts of firewood, canned food, and even some of the fruit is still edible - not yet destroyed by the beginning frost of winter. As they settle in, Brian claims he has been seeing car lights at night and suspects perhaps they were being followed and are being watched. Philip believes he is simply dreaming and perhaps stressed. When their makeshift alarm goes off one night, Philip soon discovers that his brother was spot on. A group of junkies shows up and demands the well stocked house for themselves. A firefight ensues and the remaining humanity Philip has is quickly vanquished. With little hope left, the group pushes onward and arrives in Woodbury where the rise of the governor begins.
My expectations for Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor
were high because I'm such a big fan of the comic. I loved the idea of setting some back stories on the characters and their lives before zombies, or perhaps at the beginning of the zombie outbreak as was the case here. The book is enjoyable but I can't help feeling letdown by it. I'll start with the good and try to explain the bad without giving away any spoilers.
The story itself is well written. While I have never read anything by Jay Bonansinga before, it's clear he's a capable writer. There are many characters in the book that aren't in the comic, so to say character development isn't really needed is false. Even with the characters in the comic, you still need to be interested. That's where the story comes in. It's a fine tale - lots of action, as one would want in a zombie story. Lots of those Night of the Living Dead
moments of isolation and desperation. There's lots of close calls, lots of times where you wonder if someone will survive due to lack of food, water, or simply getting eaten by the undead. The third act, in particular, was my favorite. With Philip and crew being isolated at the fruit orchard and the encounter with the group of junkies, followed by Philip's loss of the little humanity he had remaining, is truly the high point of the book. There's also several nods to instances in the comic that only fans will get - I loved that.
My main gripe without giving away a spoiler is the lack of believability in, well, the rise of the governor. I just don't buy it. I know people snap, lose their humanity and can become different characters, but I still can't accept the governor in the novel is ultimately became the governor in the comic. It feels too quick and I felt like their should have been more story explaining how he became the homicidal governor found in the comic. There still seems to be a point in time missing and I felt like another hundred pages could have been written to cover this. Ideally I would have liked the novel to end where the comic first introduces the governor, with Rick and I believe Glen following a downed helicopter on the outskirts of Woodbury. Lets face it, though, horror fans are tough to plans and we always want more. On one hand we say to leave something for the imagination and on the other we say we want zero time lapse between the novel and comic. C'est la vie!
The believability complaint did take a chunk of the enjoyment out of the novel for me. Even so, it's a good read and an entertaining tale for a short novel. You won't invest much time in it and fans are likely to enjoy the peak into one of the comic's most famous character's back story. For those that haven't read the comic, the story can be reads on its own with no prior knowledge of the events in the comics. In fact, you are more likely to enjoy it than regular readers of the comic. As for me, well, I'm hopeful that Walking Dead: Rise of the Michonne
takes the novels up a notch.
Story - B-