Wednesday, 5 October 2011

‘The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor’ – Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga (Tor UK)

If you’ve been reading the ‘Walking Dead’ comic books (and if you haven’t then you really should) then you won’t need me to tell you just who the Governor is and the influence that he has had on the lives of Rick Grimes and his friends. I’m prepared to bet that a number of you are thinking, ‘the Governor, what a bastard...’ right now; I am.
If you’re not reading the comic books and are just watching the TV series instead, it’s a safe bet that you will see the Governor put in an appearance at some point (if not in Season Two then definitely in Season Three I reckon). He’s too evil a character not to feature in one form or another and I’m pretty confident in saying that you all have some great television headed your way when he turns up. It’ll be near the knuckle stuff though, you have been warned...

Zombie media is great at showing the reader (or viewer, whatever) how a character can develop in certain ways when faced with the all encompassing fear of a zombie apocalypse. People are thrown back on their own resources and will often have to do unspeakable things if they want to survive another day; they will often end up a completely different person to how they began. The Governor differs here in that when we first meet him he is already capable of some pretty sickening stuff. So... what happened? Was the Governor always like this or did something happen, during those early days of the zombie uprising, that forced him down a particular path?
Robert Kirkman has teamed up with thriller writer Jay Bonansinga to fill in that gap and the result is just what you would expect from the creator of ‘The Walking Dead’. You’re going to need a strong stomach to read this book but it’s more than worth it in the end.

The dead are walking and Philip Blake’s life will never be the same again. The only constant let over (from a former life that already seems like a dream) is his seven year old daughter Penny and Philip will do whatever takes to make sure that she survives.

Rumour has it that refugee centres are being set up in Atlanta so Philip and Penny aim to make their way there along with Philip’s brother and two old high school friends. Atlanta isn’t far away, as the crow flies, but in a new world where the dead are looking to eat the living... Atlanta is now a lot further away than anyone thought. Our band of survivors will do whatever they can to get to the city but not only are there thousands of zombies in the way but Atlanta might not be as safe as everyone thought. Philip Blake’s problems are only just beginning...

Every so often I’ll come across a book where I’ll find myself stopping and thinking, ‘what the... did I just read that?’ You know what I mean; the writer really goes for the throat and you find yourself physically shocked by what’s happening on the page. ‘The Rise of the Governor’ is not one of those books, preferring instead to take things to another level and set out to shock you pretty much every couple of pages. And it succeeds. ‘The Rise of the Governor’ makes for visceral, bloody and downright brutal reading that I just couldn’t put down. Kirkman and Bonansinga’s team up proves that Kirkman’s creation can live just as well on the printed page as it does in the comic book.

That’s not to say that it’s all perfect though. The journey that Philip Blake makes is arduous to say the least and one development led me to wonder whether Kirkman and Bonansinga took pity on the group and decided to let them rest up for a bit. The safe shelter that they find is a little too safe and drastic action is needed to move them on and keep the story flowing. Therein lies the problem, it’s clear that the plot needs to keep moving and one particularly powerful scene (seriously, the weather gets involved and everything!) is rendered nothing more than a really transparent plot device there to kick-start the plot. Talk about being taken right out of a book (which was hitherto really easy to get into) and having it shown for what it is...

This is a real shame as the rest of the book, both before and after this point, absolutely rocks and I’m eager to see how Kirkman and Bonansinga tie the next two books into the ongoing ‘Walking Dead’ continuity (although it’s not a hundred percent clear whether the book will tie into the comic book plot or that of the TV show, my money is on the comic book personally).

When the dead start trying to eat bits of the living, civilisation crumbles fast and that puts a lot of pressure on the people trying to live in the ruins. Nowhere is this clearer than in the characters of Philip and Brian Blake, two men just trying to do the right thing by the people that they love. Kirkman and Bonansinga throw everything they can at Philip in particular and you can’t help but root for him as he struggles to overcome another setback (and discovers levels of savagery that he was previously unaware of), even though long term fans will know how his story ultimately plays out. Or will they? There is one hell of a twist, right at the end, which casts new light on everything and makes prospect of the next two books just that little more enticing.

Before you get to that bit, there is a whole wasteland of the zombie apocalypse to work your way through; jammed full of zombies and the worst elements of what is left of humanity. Kirkman and Bonansinga use this backdrop to great effect, pulling no punches in showing us just how tough life has suddenly become for Philip and his friends. ‘The Rise of the Governor’ is full of frantic moments where streets suddenly fill up with zombies, cars break down and safe shelter is proved to be anything but. Kirkman and Bonansinga set out to show us just what people will do to survive and Philip Blake learns some hard lessons along the way. For the reader... Prepare to feel your heart race like mad and remember to breathe every now and then, this is a book where it’s all too easy to take a breath and forget to let it out.

‘The Rise of the Governor’ comes to a clanking halt mid-way through but stays in fifth gear long enough for it not to be a major issue; there are more than enough shocks and zombies to keep you going. I cannot wait for the next book.

Nine out of Ten


Mark Lawrence said...

If it comes to a clanking halt in the middle and still rates 9/10 then the rest of it must be freakin' spectacular?

Sounds like one to read. You can't go far wrong with a zombie or two.

Graeme Flory said...

It does feel like an odd score to give a book that does that to you, right in in the middle, but I really believe the rest of the book made up for it.

I'll admit to a bias towards zombies, and 'The Walking Dead', though... :o)

Banjo said...

I actually found the middle act (the "safe haven" part) the most interesting and involving section of the book. The novel starts rather weakly, but builds quickly to become really good and very much a can't-put-down read... but kind of falls apart in the last fifty pages or so, IMO. The "twist" feels unneeded and silly (and doesn't even make sense when thought about) and the ending is severely rushed into 20 pages or so. I really enjoyed reading it (until the end, anyway), despite a rather unwieldy writing style, and finished all 280 pages in a single sitting.