Review: City of the Dead by Brian Keene [audiobook]

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My original City of the Dead: Author's Preferred Edition audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Set immediately following the final moments of Brian Keene’s Bram Stoker Award-winning The Rising, a small band of survivors manage to flee the zombie-infested suburbs of New Jersey. Their escape is not exactly scot-free, however, and Jim, Frankie, Martin, and Danny are hounded by a pursuing band of the undead who quite nearly finish them off. They’re rescued, though, and spirited away to Ramsey Tower, an impenetrable New York City skyscraper at the heart of the city where scores of survivors have found shelter and a chance at survival. Unfortunately for them, this rescue puts the survivors out of the frying pan and straight into the fire. Ramsey, an old, perverted, wealthy old tycoon with a reality TV show and dementia (hmmm…I wonder what other old, perverted, wealthy real estate tycoon with a crappy TV show and dementia Keene could have based Ramsey on?) will do anything to survive. Anything. And Ob, the undead leader of the zombie hordes, has set its eyes on Ramsey Tower and the death of everyone hiding within.

With the ground-rules of Keene’s zombie apocalypse well-established in The Rising, this Author’s Preferred Edition of City of the Dead ups the ante a fair deal and provides a wealth of gore, dismemberment, and mayhem. New York has become a necropolis, and in between all the flesh-chomping and headshots, Keene expounds on the goals of Ob and the demonic Siquissim. One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate about Keene’s The Rising series is the way the author infuses traditional zombie apocalypse tropes with a welcome dose of cosmic horror. Anybody looking for solid, edgy Romero-esque carnage will feel right at home with these two novels, and will likely appreciate the spark of originality Keene injects.

The Rising‘s narrator, Joe Hempel, returns to the microphone for City of the Dead to deliver a lively reading. Having narrated more than 150 books, Hempel has a comfortable, familiar reading style that makes for a companionable listen, one that’s smooth all the way through. His production skills are top-notch, as well, and you won’t find any blips or aberrations in the recording to yank you out of the story.

Readers who bemoaned the ending to The Rising can rest assured that Keene delivers a definitive finale to City of the Dead. Personally, I found the ending to The Rising to be very well-done, but I know there’s also a surprising number of readers out there who need every single thing spelled out for them and who are unable to infer details unless they’re beat over the head with them. Well, fear not – City of the Dead has an ending and nobody need fear the mistaken appearance of a cliffhanger!

City of the Dead takes all the best aspects of The Rising and plumbs its cosmic mythological depths a bit more. In some ways, it’s a nastier, darker, dirtier work than the prior story, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Ramsey in particular is a real piece of work, and Keene gives his living characters enough warmth and humanity to stab you in the heart when you least expect it. Thankfully, Keene softens some of the considerable tension and long, violent action set-pieces with moments of dark humor, usually thanks to a cat named God, as well as a few scenes of heartwarming familial repartee. City of the Dead is definitely worth a visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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