Book Review: City of the Dead by Brian Keene

This is the sequel to The Rising which I reviewed just a few days ago. Ending on a knife edge cliffhanger where father hears son scream in a zombie-infested town led to a lot of complaints from fans that it shouldn’t have ended there. Most accepted it but some clambered for years for a sequel that Keene had no intention of writing until he buckled.

This picks up immediately where the last one left off, father and son are reunited (hurrah!) but the threat is only just beginning; the group have to immediately fight off an army of zombies attacking the house in what appears to have been a trap. We’re thrown in at the deep end then as opposed to the first book’s rather sedate and reflective opening. This one is all action. They do get out of course and eventually barricade themselves inside a skyscraper, and this is where the bulk of the story takes place. All of the characters from the previous book are here so I don’t need to introduce them.

In the outside world, Ob is rallying his minions, attempting to take over the bodies of what few humans remain left alive in the conventional sense. What will he do when humanity is wiped out? Move on to the next one until he can challenge The Cruel One who banished his kind there “long before Michael and Lucifer chose to take sides”. Yes, this one leaves no grey area in what the overall story is about. In fact, Keene piles on the religious symbolism here.

The first book was a little understated and ambiguous: these zombies are intelligent alien beings who claim to have been sent to “The Void” long before humanity existed. The preacher in this book interprets this as a group of pre-human fallen race banished to Hell by god. If you are not religious, you’d probably interpret it as some sort of super-powerful alien race banishing another alien race to another dimension. Here, Keene leaves no room for ambiguity and ties his flag to the pole of theology. I’d rather he’d kept the ambiguity so the reader could take their own individual hypothesis away without being spoon-fed any meaning… and I do mean he “piles on” the religion. It seems to be on every page and it isn’t particularly clever if I am honest.

This is not a bad book, but it isn’t as good as the first (which I was completely ambivalent about). It’s just so-so and I really failed to see what people are excited about with both books. If a writer wants to put in a message, I also prefer subtlety. The message here is more like a sledgehammer.

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