Fiction Reviews

The Walking Dead – Rise of the Governor

(2011) Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga, Tor, pbk, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-330-54133-6


Rise of the Governor is based on the Robert Kikman series of graphic novels that was then turned into a television series which quickly got a warm reception which in turn meant that the graphic novels and TV series began picking up SF awards including an Eisner in the US and Stan Lee Awards in Great Britain in 2011 and 2012 as well as an SFX award; no doubt others will follow. Meanwhile the TV series has just been renewed for a third season.

If you are not aware of what it is all about, The Walking Dead is arguably the biggest SF franchise in the current (2008-2012) fad for zombies. The set up is basically that of a present-day Romero Night of the Living Dead in which – for some unknown reason but a virus is implicated – the dead reanimate to stalk the living and whose bite transfers the infection. Set in the US – I where there is no NHS (National Health Service) – the majority of civilisation is wiped out leaving behind material goods largely intact albeit their functionality is often compromised by the lack of infrastructure. And so there is no internet, TV, radio broadcasts and the fuel for cars are whatever happened to be around at the time of the catastrophe.

The Walking Dead – Rise of the Governor is begins just a few days after the onset of the catastrophe. There is still electricity and many of the TV and radio stations are functioning, though some have ceased transmission while others are broadcasting recorded material. The principal protagonists are Brian Blake and his brother Philip along with Brian's young daughter and their old school friend Nick Parsons. Trying to make sense of it all, they hole up in a deserted wealthy residence bordering a golf course. It soon becomes clear that elsewhere the situation is deteriorating and so they try to head for where they think may be an official refuge station.

It soon becomes clear that Brian is a little unhinged, though whether by his own temperament or due to the stress of the situation and keeping is young daughter safe it is not clear.

In the city they find that things are worse but find shelter with a couple of other survivors. For a short while it looks like they may outride matters, but while scouting with one of the new survivors, Philip sexually assaults her and this results in the group being thrown out of their new-found haven.

Weeks later and in a new haven – a mansion – the group is attacked by other survivors and, with one thing leading to another (I am avoiding spoilers for you here), they ultimately stumble across a settlement of survivors in the small residential town of Woodbury…

With The Walking Dead – Rise of the Governor what we have is a spin-off novel very much authorised, and certainly skeletally framed by the author of the series of original graphic novels, Robert Kirkman. Those managing the Walking Dead franchise seem to have commissioned Jay Bonansinga to flesh out the story and write this novel (even though Kirkman gets bigger billing on the cover).

The novel itself is competently written albeit that Bonansinga is constrained by operating in someone else's creation with which everything he writes must chime. This means that were this a stand-alone novel there would be a serious problem with the plot arc. Though it does not matter that the novel begins after the apocalypse has begun (after all many other worthy souls, such as Philip K. Dick, have done this), the novel ends too precipitously after a suitably dramatic but otherwise unremarkable episode given what has been going on.

As such this spin-off novel would not particularly serve the casual reader seeking a notable example of recent zombie novels: there are much better such books out there, for example, The Reapers are the Angels or The Forest of Hands and Teeth.   The Walking Dead – Rise of the Governor is too embedded in The Walking Dead franchise to be particularly good as a stand-alone piece of writing.

Having said this The Walking Dead – Rise of the Governor would serve those genre readers who are not into graphic novels seeking to see what all the fuss is about.   However this novel's appeal is more for those who are into the graphic novels and also – or even alternatively – the TV series for Robert Kirkman has ensured that it is firmly embedded in the franchise.   This spin-off novel's principal character of Brian Blake is the Governor whom the protagonist survivors in the original graphic novels (and the television series' third season) come across ruling the Woodbury group of survivors. So what this spin-off novel really is, is providing added backstory detail to the original Walking Dead overall plot arc. As such this book will undoubtedly be devoured by the hungry hoard of Walking Dead enthusiasts, be they devotees of the graphic novels or the television series.

There is of course the potential for other backstory spin-off novels and The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury, again by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga, has just been published.

Jonathan Cowie

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