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Spotlight on: The Rising by Brian Keene

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The Rising by Brian Keene Brian Keene, The Rising

Brian Keene's debut novel won the Bram Stoker award for First Novel that year, and set off a storm of publicity about him as the Next Big Thing, which has scarcely let up since. Unfortunately, that novel, The Rising, suffers from an ambiguous ending (especially since a sequel, City of the Dead, was recently published -- what worked for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fails miserably here). Until then, however, it offers an adventure that is familiar but innovative.

Any novel that presents an end-of-the-world scenario with multiple character groups will inevitably be compared to Stephen King's masterwork, The Stand, but Keene's The Rising doesn't allow this to be a liability. Depending on the military for assistance shows a distinct lack of imagination, but it does not hinder the storytelling as the inherent set of "rules" and missing links in the chain of command open up possibilities.

The main focus of The Rising, however, is on Jim Thurmond's search for his son Danny in a land where the newly dead come back to life as crazed meat-hungry zombies. Keene uses the archetypes like Reverend Martin (a man of God who manages to keep his faith in the face of adversity), Professor Baker (whose scientific experiments led to the debacle), a black prostitute/junkie named Frankie (did she have to be black? that's borderline offensive), and even a communication-impaired boy named Worm. As Jim works his way toward his son, these folks will help or hinder his progress toward Danny as time continues to run out -- each minute wasted is a further opportunity for Danny to be killed or, worse, reanimated.

Keene has written The Rising with unabashed mainstream intentions. The father-son relationship lends a sweetness that is usually missing in novels of this stripe, making sure that that it is read by more than the usual horror fans (and almost certainly responsible for Keene's surprising success in the genre). That said, these intentions have led the author down paths better left untrod. I mentioned the ending already, but the book also suffers from taking too long to get through its story, often seeming to linger unnecessarily on unpleasantness for its own sake (flesh-eating zombies is one thing, but child rape is something else entirely).

In addition, this is the worst-proofed novel I have ever seen from Leisure Books. It is as if they simply took a previous edition and replicated it with paper covers with no thought to quality, only quick sales. All of these combine to make The Rising seem less of a book than it should.

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