If you’re reading my blog, odds are good you like to geek out on at least one fictional universe. I’ve been known to go geek on Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Dune, and, most notably of late, The Walking Dead.
I’ve seen all the shows, I’ve read all the comics, I even watch the Talking Dead fan show that airs on Sunday nights. And of course when The Walking Dead novels started coming out, I put them in my TBR pile.
The first of these novels, The Rise of the Governor, finally found its way to the top of my reading list this week. In honesty, I opened the book expecting something froofy. This was a tie-in novel after all. I was guessing I’d get some hastily tossed together story by a genre writer who pumped out a different zombie novel every month.
The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor
I was very pleased to find that I was wrong. By page 2 it was clear to me I was in the hands of a skilled writer who approached the task of writing a story in this universe with all the seriousness a rabid fan would want.
Rise of the Governor has everything you’d expect in a zombie apocalypse novel. There’s a small party of survivors on the road. There are dangers from both living humans and the undead. There are tons of clever weapons, both store-bought and homemade, and there are scenes of extraordinary gore. But more than this, there is a human story that burns from chapter 1 through to the end, and it’s one hell of a story.
Our band of survivors is centered around the enigmatic Phillip Blake. Together with his brother Brian, his friend Nicky, his daughter Penny, and some others who either get eaten quickly or otherwise find their way out of the central story, they navigate the early days of the zombie apocalypse as presented in The Walking Dead. In the early scenes, Phillip Blake is a savior. He’s a charismatic hero with an inner strength that keeps his whole group alive. He is fearless in the face of the undead, he is quick on his feet, and he truly loves the people he is helping to protect. His relationship with his cowardly brother in particular is sweet. Phillip’s brother is the primary narrator of this story, and through his eyes, we see that even though Phillip has it well within his power to bully and abuse Brian, he’s always chosen the higher ground. He looks out for his weaker sibling, and when Brian can’t man up to the killing involved in the zombie apocalypse, Phillip gives him another task instead, one that is equally important. Phillip charges Brian with looking out for Penny, the little girl whose fate Walking Dead fans know all too well.
The apocalypse forces these characters to react. Their reactions are swift, unplanned, and violent. Their reactions change them. Nick turns to his Bible, determined to figure out the right and wrong of this new world. Phillip, as the leader of this crew, is forced to look inside himself over and over again. He finds himself facing an ever-larger chasm in what once was his soul.
And Brian…well, the change in Brian is shocking, intense, and entirely believable. He is an exceptionally well-crafted character.
The transformation of the man who would be governor from regular guy to villain to monster is powerful, and worthy of the character Robert Kirkman created in the iconic comic book. The final third of the book is horrifying, and not in a cheap zombie thrills sort of way. This is intense psychological horror that is very well played. If you’re into the zombie genre, this is a must read.
Two authors are credited on this novel: Robert Kirkman, who created The Walking Dead, and Jay Bonansinga, who has a made a name for himself writing shocking horror thrillers. I am quite familiar with the work of Robert Kirkman. I’m looking forward to reading more from Jay Bonansinga.