Risen, by J. Knight

risen-by-j-knight coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Risen, by J. Knight, is an ebook that did so well and generated enough buzz that it caught the attention of a traditional publisher and is now being released in mass market paperback. It starts with a simple enough premise: the dead coming back to life. Not as zombies al la Day of the Dead, but as seemingly-normal, except that are all now in thrall to a being they refer to as Seth.

It starts slowly enough, a person here and there, but like any epidemic, it rapidly gains momentum, as those brought back by Seth become his recruiters. And the only way to recruit for Seth is to kill…. All the residents of the small town of Anderson are threatened, and if Anderson falls to Seth, what’s next? Caught up in the middle of this are Brant Kettering, editor and publisher of the local newspaper, Tom Culler, a high-school senior, and his mother Peg, a waitress at the town’s diner. Will they be able to find out who’d at the source of these resurrections, or will they too become soldiers in Seth’s army? There are a host of very well done minor characters as well that add a great deal to the ‘thickness’ of the story.

Knight writes with the assurance and confidence of a seasoned pro. As I read, I was reminded of some of my previous favorites: Boy’s Life, Stinger, and The Wolf’s Hour (by Robert McCammon) and Salem’s Lot and The Stand by Stephen King. What distinguished these stories for me, and what distinguishes Knight’s Risen, is the attention paid to the characters, major and minor both.

Some books are almost magic in their ability to enthrall. They aren’t stories; they are the lives of people. We don’t read to see where the story goes, we read to see what happens to the people the author has created. Knight’s characters are as well-realized as any you will find in the genre. They distinguish themselves by their actions, motivations and goals. We can sympathize with them. We know people like them. We root for some, feel sorry for others, and wish some would die. That’s the true appeal of Knight’s book–a chance to read a tale that makes you care about the people in it, that makes you feel as though you know them.

It’s not perfect, however. There are a few writing gaffs that poked me in the eye from time to time, though less that one might expect in a first book. Ending some verbs in ‘ing’ for example, that results in some simultaneous actions that can’t be simultaneous (I’ve remarked in this in other reviews). In some places, I thought it a little wordy. Not enough to completely stop the story, but enough to bog it down. Overall, lest I sound too critical of Knight’s craft, let me say that the writing here is equal to any you’ll find in the genre.

There are also a few problems with plot. In his efforts to keep a major plot point hidden, Knight might keep it a bit too hidden. When finally revealed it wasn’t with the virtually smacking of the hand on the forehead and the exclamation ‘That makes perfect sense! I should have seen it coming!’ It was more like ‘Hmmm. That never occurred to me….’ The misdirection in relation to said plot point was such that I had already recognized it for what it was. So that part of the tale didn’t work as well as it should. The ending, while a logical extension of events, was somewhat nihilistic.

If you’re a fan of King’s older stories, or have read and enjoyed McCammon, King, Saul, or some of Koontz’s older (but not too old!) stuff, I can heartily recommend Risen. When you turn the final page, you’re going to be disappointed, but only because the story has ended.

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