Premise: Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic books of the same name, The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor is set in time before The Walking Dead series on AMC, focusing on how the character of The Governor from the comics comes to power.
The novel follows Philip and Brian Blake, two brothers trying to survive in the midst of a strange outbreak of flesh-hungry undead, along with Philip’s young daughter Penny, and two of Philip’s friends. They move from place to place trying to find a way to make a new life in this world of zombie apocalypse, where they face bandits, paranoid survivors, and the ever-present threat of zombies.
The circumstances obviously are difficult for everyone to endure and people are pushed to their limits of what they are willing to do to survive. As Philip becomes more unstable, we see Brian willing to overlook increasingly heinous acts as he makes excuses to Philip’s friends for his behavior, especially as it pertains to protecting and doing what is best for Penny. They finally come to the town of Woodbury and find themselves in a leaderless situation on the brink of collapse.
Themes: In this story, we read about the relationships of people, both family and friends, and their loyalty to each other in a life or death situation. The Blakes are willing to do anything for each other, including overlooking faults and lack of judgment, for the sake of keeping their family together. Bobby and Nick are Philip’s friends, and they are loyal to him. In spite of Philip’s disdain for his brother’s weaknesses, he still remains loyal to Brian because they are family. Above all, Philip is willing to do anything to protect Penny, as is Brian, who keeps that as the one thing he is able to do amidst the killing and mayhem around him.
We also see the obvious theme of people pushed to the limits and what they are willing to do to survive when all options are exhausted. With roaming zombies biting and tearing people to pieces, scavenging thugs with guns, food and running water scarce, and shelter never quite being secure, characters will stab each other in the back, even if they are family. As Philip loses it, his actions help them all survive, but the also eventually bring more and more harm to the people around him. What are you willing to do to survive in dire circumstances?
Pros: The story is told in a third person present tense that adds to the immediacy of the narrative and gives the story an inherent tension. For a zombie thriller, I would say this is a good thing. The interactions between the characters are interesting, especially between Philip and Brian. I was intrigued by how Philip treats his older brother, who is quite the pushover. But Brian, who also looks up to his much tougher younger brother as someone who knows how to handle himself in tough situations and is the most likely to be a survivor, gives Philip the benefit of the doubt in the midst of ridicule from his brother. If you are looking for pure gore and zombie killing, you will find plenty of that here.
Cons: The character perspective changes a lot. I think it changes too often. I understand that you are seeing through the eyes of characters that go off on their own and there needs to be a tension of fear through their eyes, but for a novel it is distracting and sometimes confusing. The character motivations and consistencies just weren’t there for me either. I didn’t get the idea that Nick was a Christian until too late in the novel. I also thought that Brian’s eventual actions were too inconsistent with his character for the entire book. It is one thing to be pushed beyond reason or sanity, but you still have to keep character consistency. I’m also not the biggest fan of swearing, but especially when it is in narrative. Because the narrative is from the point of view of different characters and not an omniscient perspective this means that you see things through the characters’ eyes, but it doesn’t mean that the narrative in their heads needs so much swearing. I would say it was too much and unnecessary. Finally, if this is meant to be a trilogy (which I discovered it is) you still have to have a complete book and fulfill readers’ expectations. This book felt as if it was lacking an ending, especially for people who have never read the comics and have no idea who the Governor is. Not once does the book say that name.
Recommendations: If you are a fan of The Walking Dead series, definitely give this a try. It will give some back story into a character they may introduce in season two. If you are a fan of the comic books, you will probably enjoy reading some of the back story of a horrible villain. This is definitely an adult book with adult themes and adult language. Be aware of that when you are going into this. The Walking Dead is not for kids. My guess is if you like the television series you won’t be offended by anything in here. If you like an old-fashioned zombie flick, The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor is also right up your alley. A caveat I’ll throw in there would be that I might suggest waiting until all the books are out to read them together so that you’re not disappointed when you get to the end of this first book and it leaves you hanging.
The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor on Goodreads
Robert Kirkman’s website
Jay Bonansinga’s website
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