When I first read The Rising five years ago, I didn't much care for it. Here's why: early on in Brian Keene's zombie adventure, we discover that it's not just humans that can become reanimated. Animals are fair game for zombification, too, and the demonic Siquissim that possess Earth's corpses give all these zombies the ability to talk. This means that in addition to talking zombie humans, we also get talking zombie fish and talking zombie lions. My first encounter with these creatures seriously disrupted my suspension of disbelief. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a talking fish was enough to take me right out of this zombie novel.
Over the last few years, though, as the book marinated in my psyche and I've become a regular listener of Keene's podcast and privy to the stories and behind-the-scenes discussions he's given us about his books and influences, I grew tempted to give The Rising another shot. Joe Hempel's narration of the audiobook edition sealed the deal. I love Joe (necessary disclaimer: I like Joe so much that I hired him to narrate my own novel, Mass Hysteria), and given the fandom and devotion surrounding The Rising, it was time to give it a second chance.
Boy am I glad I did! In fact, knowing what to expect out of this book helped me enjoy it a heck of a lot more. My prior reading gave me the inside track on what's what here, and without any jarring surprises, like a talking fish, to snap me out of the reading I was able to really sink into the narrative and accept it for what it is. And what it is is a heck of a lot of dark, occasionally silly, pulpy fun.
Keene's conceit for the zombie apocalypse is a nifty one. A Large Hadron Collider-like bit of science opens up a portal between this world and The Void, allowing the evil Siquissim entry into our dimension where they take up residence in our recently dearly departed. When a person shuffles off their mortal coil and their soul escapes the confines of the flesh and blood, a Siquissim takes its place. This is a zombie apocalypse by way of demonic possession and cosmic horror, and it's an interesting, original take on the end of the world as we know it.
At the core of all this is our every-man hero, Jim, who just wants to make it to New Jersey to save his son. He's joined along the way by other survivors, but when a rogue platoon of National Guardsmen begin rounding up and enslaving folks, it's only a matter of time before everybody is set on a collision course. There's an urgency to Jim's situation, and the perils he faces on his road-trip serve to heighten the tension. Keene makes you feel his desperation as the clock ticks down, right from the opening chapter. I was surprised at just how emotionally resonant and earnest our introduction to Jim was, and Keene is sure to pull on our heartstrings every now and then, reminding us of the humanity of our small band of survivors even as he grips us in moments of true despair and shocking violence.
Joe Hempel's narration is strong throughout, and I particularly liked the affectations he gave to the zombies, particularly Ob, the malevolent leader of the Siquissim. He voices each character well, providing enough subtle distinction and occasional accents or tones that each line of dialogue is unique to each speaker. Hempel's narration is top-notch, and his reading makes for a truly compelling listen. He's a great fit to Keene's sensibilities, and I'm looking forward to listening to his reading of City of the Dead next.
While the text is the Author's Preferred Edition, I think it's safe to say the audiobook is my own preferred edition. Listening to Joe Hempel's reading of Brian Keene's Bram Stoker Award-winning debut horror novel was a terrific amount of fun, and it gave me a new appreciation for the work as a whole.
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