I've mentioned how big of a fan I am of Devan Sagliani's work. As the author of Zombies Attack!, Undead L.A., and Saint Death, he's developed quite the collection of horror stories which are usually built around a charismatic collection of leads menaced by the undead. Devan's work takes time to develop its leads and, thus, when monsters attack you actually care about who is going to die.
The Rising Dead is familiar territory for the author, being about a group of college-age students caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Still, I can honestly say it's the book I was most looking forward to from his collection since it was a made-for-adults zombie novel set in one of the best cities for the undead to rise in: Las Vegas.
Interestingly, despite being set in the city of consumerism and greed, the athor doesn't focus on the Strip. Instead, he sets the majority of the book in a run-down housing development called the Thunderdome. Here, poor students and people who can't afford housing elsewhere choose to make their homes. Here, a web cam celebrity, a fraternity boy jock, a paranoid Gulf War veteran, a nerd, and a cheerleader are our "meat" for the apocalypse.
Interestingly, like The Cabin in the Woods, the novel plays with the archetypes which are so familiar to horror movies and fiction. Max as the beautiful rebellious Goth girl would, normally, be the star while Gemma the cheerleader would be the bitchy one. The two would be at each others' throats or nothing more than love-interests. In fact, Gemma takes center stage during much of the story and Max's attitude problems dissolve in the face of tragedy. Both of them also serve as proactive characters who do every bit as much as their male counterparts.
Indeed, all of the characters are more than just the sum of their shorthand descriptions and feel like authentic people at the end of the story. Their likability makes the threat of zombies against them actually menacing as you don't want to see any of them become monster-chow. I confess to a certain amount of bias, though, as Goth girls in horror fiction are a favorite of mine so I especially wanted to see Max make it through. Even Parker, who is something of a jerkass, has his sympathetic qualities as his successful athlete facade hides a mass of insecurities.
What's the premise? A virus being produced by a pharmaceutical company as a means to eliminate the excess world-population in a deniable fashion gets loose due to a group of trespassing campers. In nearby Las Vegas, a group of college students, a religious fanatic, and a PTSD-suffering veteran find themselves in the middle of the Revelations virus' outbreak. Unknown to the survivors as a whole, one of them has an intimate connection to the virus' creation and possible destruction.
I wasn't overly impressed with the set-up for the apocalypse with a renegade pharmaceutical company that has ties to the military being overused as an origin. You might as well have made the Umbrella Corporation or Weyland-Yutani at fault. Still, it keeps the heroes from running directly to the military and provides a little spice to the climax of the book. The ending took me by surprise and I have to give props to Devan for doing something unexpected with the finale.
Las Vegas is a trifle underused in this book, lacking a lot of what I was expecting from the setting there but there's still some very fund tidbits toward the end like a survival shelter in an Elvis-themed wedding chapel. I am probably spoiled by Dead Rising 2 but if we ever see a sequel, I hope we get to see zombies wandering around a casino with the heroes fighting them off to the tune of malfunctioning slot machines.
In conclusion, I think this is probably Devan Sagliani’s best book yet. The cast is exceptionally strong and drowns out any of the book’s minor flaws. The ending has the potential for a sequel but if the author wishes to end it on this note, then it is a perfectly satisfying if depressing one. Zombie fans may find the book to be a bit too similar to other works about groups of survivors trying to get to safety while surrounded by the hungry dead but you don’t buy a Western to read about cowboys on the sea.