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zombies seem to have become very much back in vogue in recent years with both a remake of George Romero classics DAWN OF THE DEAD and sequel, DAY OF THE DEAD; the RESIDENT EVIL franchise and Romero's latest, DIARY OF THE DEAD all being released at the cinema. In the written form too, the undead have seen a big resurgence with titles like MONSTER ISLAND and THE MORNINGSTAR STRAIN not forgetting the infallible and essential ZOMBIE HANDBOOK all being published over the last couple of years....
CITY OF THE DEAD is the sequel to BRIAN KEENE'S debut novel, THE RISING, and picks up where the story in the first book left off. Goverment scientists have been meddling again, as they have a habit of doing, and have opened up a rift between our world and The Void....this essentially means that demonic spirits have now begun inhabiting the bodies of all deceased humans and animals with the intention of totally destroying our world. THE RISING followed the journey of one man as he crossed states in an attempt to come to the resue of his only son. CITY OF THE DEAD sees him finally being reunited and then trying to figure out where to go next in a world that is becoming more and more deadly as zombies begin to take over the world.
Eventually Jim, his son and a couple of other survivors find their way to a cityblock skyscraper owned by a reclusive billionaire now turned into a sanctuary for the last of mankind. Billionaire Ramsey believes not only that he is mans' saviour but also that his building is inpenetrable to an all-out attack. Unfortunately what he hasn't counted on is that the zombies outside are both sentient and highly capable of using weapons and guile- especially when under the command of their leader, the paticulary nasty demon, Ob......before long, the defences of Ramsey Towers are put severely to the test and the battle for survival begins to look ever more doubtful....
If the whole idea of CITY OF THE DEAD sounds a little familiar, thats because it is. A very similar seige concept was used by zombie film-maker, George Romero, in his last-but-one film entitled LAND OF THE DEAD; this too featured zombies developing rudimentary intelligence but this was more an expansion of ideas originally explored in DAY OF THE DEAD. The demonic possession of bodies in Keene's novels is an original
and cleverly crafted touch as is the idea of zombie animals (first seen in the RESIDENT EVIL computer games) but by the time you reach this novel's climax, the plot just all begins to feel a bit inevitable and more than a little depressive. It is a very dark novel and sometimes perhaps is too dark for it's own good.
It certainly delivers on the gore front though, much like it's predecessor!!! Action-packed from the very beginning, it reads like a classic blood-soaked zombie movie with subtle references and nods towards its origins in the use of some of the character names. TOM SAVINI (the SFX make-up artist who remade NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and had cameo roles in both DAWN and LAND OF THE DEAD) gets a mention as does FULCI (whom I believe directed ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS) and this is a nice touch giving good example of where Keene's inspirations truly lie.
Certainly the ending is a bit of a downer but don't let that spoil your enjoyment. If you want my advice, read THE RISING first though as it is a much better novel and the story might just as well have been best leaving there. CITY OF THE DEAD is okay as sequels go but just don't expect anything as ground-breaking as the first novel which left me totally impressed. Not as impressed as some of the critics however who, in quotes at the front of this book, compare KEENE to STEPHEN KING!! This I feel is something of an overstatement as KING was never this rough or unrefined even in his earliest books!! KEENE writes unashamed schlock-horror, reminiscent slightly of early SHAUN HUTSON, that delivers everything it promises but no more!
One other fault I found was that although the novel comes up with some interesting concepts- sailing off to sea to inhabit a deserted island, travelling to the Pole where the zombies may be slower- none of these ideas are ever followed through to their conclusion which I view as a mistake that could have helped earn this book an extra star!!!
If you see this cheap or in the library, it might be worth picking up but I wouldn't reccommend you pay anything like full-price for it as its good but not that darn good. Mind if you're as big a zombie fan as I am, you won't let that disuade you....