(Warning: Possible Spoilers for the upcoming Television Season as well as for those who have not yet read the graphic novels but intend to.)
For those not in the know, `The Governor' is one of the primary villains in The Walking Dead universe. (He is set to make his grand entrance later this year when Season Three launches, more info here: [...] ). The man is a vile, misogynistic psychopath who thrives on terror, torture, and rape. He rules a small, barricaded enclave of humanity through psychological manipulation and heinous acts of violence. The hero of The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes, and his motley crew have the severe misfortune of crossing paths with The Governor and his like-minded cronies fairly early in the graphic novels. The ultimate outcome, which I won't ruin here, is as naturally chaotic and destructive as the world around them.
The Rise of the Governor (RotG) tells the back story of Phillip Blake, the man who eventually become The Governor, and his small band as they try to survive the early stages of `The Event': whatever it was that caused the dead to rise and begin making unhappy meals out of the breathing populace. On some levels it succeeds, but when it fails it truly comes up short.
Taking the work out of context, reading it simply as another post-apocalyptic novel and not part of a larger tapestry, its tragic flaw is a slow opening. Yes, zombies pop out of the shadows at every turn and Phillip Blake and his friends narrowly dispatch them in gruesome fashion. It's a zombie novel; that is par for the course. You can almost feel it coming: `been a few pages now, time for some more undead head bashing'.
By slow opening, I speak in terms of character arc. Phillip Blake himself never really rises above the shallow, narrowly defined persona of an inherently bad man whose sole saving grace is his love for his daughter. His brother Brian, a weak willed Bohemian, spends most of the novel as a cowering nursemaid to his niece Penny and when he finally does come unto his own it feels unnatural and forced. Nick, a family friend, is vaguely religious but this, too, seems like a wooden attribute that is meant to further the story instead of being a natural and real aspect of character that the story molds itself around. And these are the good characters, the ones that feel like they have some sort of meat on their literary bones. Everyone else is forgettable, the equivalent of red shirts from the Star Trek mythos. Someone has to get eaten, right?
So, judging RotG on its own merits, the book is merely adequate. Furthermore I found the use of present tense ("Brian sees a cloud of smoke in the distance and instantly feels tense," for example) an odd and distracting device used to tell the tale. I think the authors were attempting a sense of tension with this mechanism, and to their credit sometimes it worked. For the most part though it was like watching a movie from Britain or Australia: it takes a while to get used to the accent and you're pissed that you have to expend the effort instead of just getting to enjoy the flick.
RotG is not, however, an isolated island as any true zombie fan knows. For Walking Dead Heads such as myself, I hesitantly recommend it. In its favor: it is a quick read. As just an out-of-my-ass guestimate I would put it at about a 10th grade reading level.
Some bones are thrown out for those of us who have read all the previous source material. Ever wonder who put up that sign on that gated community Rick and co. stumble across that read "All Dead Inside"? Well, now you'll get to find out. Curious as to how Penny got to her current state? Explained.
Yet the biggest question, the fulcrum upon which the whole work is set: "Who is The Governor and how did he come to be?" will leave you either pleased or non plussed. Personally, I found the answer to that question, as given in RotG, serviceable if a bit predictable. Then again, I read and write a lot more than most people. It's hard to surprise me. As with all art, your experience may vary.
If you count yourself among the legions of diehard fans of `The Walking Dead', this book will offer a moderately pleasing inside look into one of the arch-villains Rick Grimes has to compete against for survival. If you are searching for a stand-alone zombie novel, keep looking. Like the devastated world in which it is set, very little life to be found here.
7.5/10 Stars if you are a fan of `The Walking Dead', 5.5 if not.