by Adam J. Smith
I've never been a big fan of the Zombie Apocalypse theme. There have been clever stories, a few interesting variations, but mostly they tend to run together. Unlike vampires and werewolves, zombies themselves are not interesting characters. The only interesting characters in a ZA story are the humans, pushed to their limits by the horrors around them.
In “The Risen”, we see a young British couple caught up in world in which the dead walk...and feed. Story-wise, not a great deal happens. Mostly it's just Nate and Ruby plodding through a Hellish landscape (a “hellscape” as Smith cleverly calls it) and trying to survive. But their journey feels very authentic and written to show us an intimate portrayal of survival in a world of death.
At times the characters drift in and out of memories or fantasies and sometimes it can be a trifle confusing as to whether this is occurring now. But that just shows the mental stress they're under.
And there are memorable bits, like when Nate decides to bury a woman's body and recalls that he could not bring himself to bury his own mother.
Throughout, there's a lot of good writing, like this: “She tasted like chocolate and almonds, coffee and the back of the throat after the sea had been accidentally imbibed.”
Yet in a couple spots, there's a remarkable lack of emotion from the heroes. In an early scene Nate discovers a headless corpse. He does not jump or cower or wet his pants. Nor does he envy or mock the victim. He's concerned that whoever committed this act is still around, and his own head might be in danger. But that's self-preservation, not emotion. The book gives us no sense of what’s going on in his mind.
The death of Nate's family would mean more to the reader if they'd been shown alive, as characters. As it is, they're dead before they're properly introduced.
Fortunately, there are not many scenes like that. Most of the time, Nate and Ruby show real emotions like fear and anger, although their passions seem muted. Well, they're British, aren't they?
From the get-go, Nate and Ruby happily stab rampaging zombies in the head, their knives piercing undead brains to destroy them. Well, no. Driving a knife's blade into a quarter-inch of skull takes quite a force. It can be done, but the book needs to show how much effort that takes. But for these two, it's not even a strain.
The good definitely outweighs any boo-boos. At about the two-third's mark, there a new POV as Cai is introduced and we get to see our heroes from a different angle. New twists are introduced that are very cool and very unique to the ZA experience. The ending is terrific.
If you want to follow a pair of young people on a walk through a nightmare world, “The Risen” is a great choice.