Thursday, 7 April 2022

Life After: The Arising (2013) by Bryan Way - Zombie Horror Book Review

Life After: The Arising
is a book I've been reading for quite some time. As always, I am slow at reading books, mainly due to only reading them on my half hour lunch breaks in my day job. This was written by Bryan Way and is the first in his Life After series. I currently also have a trio of short stories set in the same world which I will be looking at after a short break to read a couple of other novels.

University student Jeff Grey has travelled to his former high school in order to watch his younger girlfriend Julia participate in a multi-school battle of the marching bands. During the event however disaster strikes with the sudden arrival of a horde of flesh eating zombies. In the panic and confusion many of the attendees are killed or escape in vehicles, but a few survivors, led by Grey seek refuge in a rooftop greenhouse. Eventually this small group are joined by an old friend of Grey's; Anderson, who is a member of the national guard, whose military knowhow proves to be invaluable, Rich, a homeless man who used to drive school buses, as well as Julia, a nurse. With the world gone to ruin, and with seemingly no help on its way to assist, the small group set out to gather supplies and find somewhere safe to hunker down.

I'm not going to lie, to begin with I was really unsure about this novel, the first act made it feel like it really wasn't going anywhere, while with the protagonist you can't really argue that he isn't a bit of a fool. What I began to realise The Arising does so well however is that it felt like a boring portrayal of a zombie apocalypse. Maybe I could use a better word, but I don't mean boring as a slight against the novel or indeed the writing. The story wasn't dull at all, nor was it written badly, instead I mean boring in that the group of characters presented here have a lot of luck and good fortune (in terms of a world ending undead outbreak), meaning their struggles are not too great. At times it felt like this group were going about their day to day business, while far more traditional zombie survival excitement and escapades where happening with a group of characters that we never even heard of. There are a couple of moments where other survivors are fleetingly seen, I liked to think these would have been the protagonists of another book. While our group sit around discussing the concept of religion and of evolution for pages at a time, I imagined this other group doing no end of the type of high stakes events typically found in a zombie story.
Of course this theory loses some traction in some of the more high threat moments, but this is the zombie apocalypse, even people who manage to do nearly exactly the correct things are going to find themselves in peril every now and again.

So, onto the characters then. These people really grew on me over the course of the novel. Anderson was my hands down favourite, representing the more typical strong hero archetype. I liked the genuine thrill he gets with the situation that causes him to get a little bit too reckless at times. A whole scene playing out on a golf buggy was wonderful due to the random and wild things this character was doing in the background, while the protagonist was struggling to keep things together. Reading an ebook you can never really tell how long a novel is going to be, I think in paper terms The Arising is around 450 pages, this gives plenty of room for characters to be developed. Rich for instance isn't just a homeless man, instead his whole backstory is provided, drip-fed throughout. Melody isn't just some vapid school 'slut', instead she is provided with time to show that she is just as human a person as any other in the group. It wasn't all divided so equally, Jake for instance I never really found out too much about, despite him being one of the core members of the group there from the start.
Then there is Grey, someone I had trouble with to begin with. He is the core of the novel as it is told entirely from his perspective in first person. The character is a bit a of an edgelord, someone full of controversial opinions and with the right amount of book learned knowledge to talk your ear off about his opinions if he gets the chance. Starting off the book decked out in a leather trench coat and bowler hat(!), walking with a cane, and with a toothpick constantly in his mouth, this was someone I could not take seriously. To me it felt like he was almost a sociopath, and certainly someone more obsessed with looking cool than felt normal. Add in the fact he is nineteen and dating a sixteen year old (something he constantly finds himself having to defend as not weird), as well as the unsettling thoughts he sometimes has (such as thinking if he wanted to he could kill his girlfriend easily during a hug) and I couldn't help but not really like Jeff too much. He is humbled over the course of the book, given weaknesses (such as asthma, being described in a less than favourable light by several different characters) and being shown to be prone to making errors (forgetting to reload his weapons, making bad calls such as prioritising loading his damn DVD collection onto a bus while in the midst of being attacked by undead!), these help a bit but I found myself wishing at times a different character was the one narrating the story, even if it was a fun change having such a flawed protagonist leading the way. To be fair, he is the leader the group deserve. Leadership here split three ways, Rich (as he is the oldest), Anderson (for his military knowledge) and Grey (...because he has watched a lot of fictional zombie movies?). I admit it was cool that in this world people know what to do with zombies based on fictional media, Grey often basing his plans around things he's seen in films.

Towards the end of the first act my impression on the book was warped, when the thrilling and chaotic finish to that act begins I fully thought it was the end of the novel. This just leads into a more scenic journey, one that I'm glad gave plenty of time for characters to settle in one location, as the strength of The Arising is giving characters so much downtime to just sit around. The end of the novel as a whole escalated in a way that felt natural, a very exciting few chapters that show Way is not scared of showing the more bloody side of an undead uprising. He seemed to excel in carving a way through chaos, no matter how much was going on, I was able to keenly see the events he writes about playing out in my minds eye. Having a first person account makes these crazy scenes work even better, as the reader shares with the protagonists confusion at all that is happening. Saying that, there was one use of deus ex machina that felt a little too predictable for my liking. I have to also state that I feel the book as a whole could have been trimmed down at times, especially with the inane conversations characters sometimes fall into.

I have written far too much for this review, but I had a lot of thoughts on this. I haven't even mentioned the undead themselves, they are of the flesh eating variety, both fast and slow ones, though their behaviour is a little bit different in that they appear to be able to sense where humans are located, and their eyesight is said to be bizarrely amazing. People get caught and ripped apart in the traditional ways, there are hard choices made, and all kinds of violence is inflicted on the rotters, all lovely stuff. Life After: The Arising works by having the backbone of a well written and interesting zombie apocalypse, and by concentrating on its small cast of characters and giving them the time to feel more human than empty souls for the reader to witness events by. As much as I had a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the main character, he made for an interesting storyteller. The verbose way the book is written can be explained away by blaming it on the character and not on the author, giving this a save that made my time with this much more enjoyable, over and out.


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