*This review will make more sense to you if you’ve read Brian Keene‘s The Rising. If you haven’t, you need to and can pick up the author’s preferred edition right here. But even if you haven’t read either of these Keene novels, I think you’ll find something of interest below without encountering any major spoilers. At least that’s my intent. First, though, here’s the description from Amazon:
In 2003, Brian Keene’s The Rising revived horror literature’s dormant obsession with zombies. In 2007, Brian Keene’s Dead Sea knocked that obsession on its ass… The city streets are no longer safe. They are filled instead with the living dead, rotting predators driven only by a need to kill and eat. Some of the living still struggle to survive, but with each passing day, their odds grow worse. Some survivors have fled, frantically searching for a place to escape, even briefly, the slaughter around them. For Lamar Reed and a handful of others, that safe haven is an old Coast Guard ship out at sea, with plenty of water between them and the zombies. These desperate survivors are completely isolated from the dangers of the mainland. But their haven will soon become a deathtrap, and they’ll learn that isolation can also mean no escape! Deadite Press is proud to present this Author’s Preferred version of Keene’s over-the-top cult classic, which includes never-before-published material!
Brian Keene’s Dead Sea might sound like The Rising at first glance. Same author, same genre, same sub-genre. But that’s where the similarities end. And while I really enjoyed both books, I enjoyed them in very different ways. Dead Sea is in some ways a more innocent book than The Rising. Part of this, I think, is the frequent presence of two children in Dead Sea. There’s a very important child in The Rising (the protagonist’s son), but he’s mostly off-stage in that story. Of course, this child is constantly in the protagonist’s mind, but because we don’t physically see him much, The Rising retains a certain brand of maturity and grimness that makes us worry for the child all the more.
Tasha and Malik (the two children in Dead Sea) and the nature of their relationship to the narrator (Lamar) endows the book with a sweetness and an emotional depth that surprised me. This might also be an appropriate time to mention how well Keene handles child characters. Many book and movie children grate on my nerves. An overabundance of precocity or a surfeit of preciousness can ruin a child character for me. But the kids in Keene’s novels are neither too knowing nor too adorable. They’re just right.
However, in some ways the bleakness of Dead Sea is more pronounced than it was in The Rising. There were times I felt hopeless in Dead Sea, and it’s a rare book that can make me feel that way. This isn’t to say Dead Sea is unentertaining because it is a very quick read with some excellent action sequences. It’s also scary. But there’s a growing sense of despair that culminates in a very nasty revelation very late in the novel. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will tell you the ending surprised me. And that’s also fairly hard to do.
Lastly, though I loved both this tale and The Rising, I’m glad Brian Keene chose to sequelize The Rising and to leave this one alone. The former necessitated a sequel (which I’ll read this fall); the latter ended exactly as it should have. To be honest, I’m sort of haunted by the ending of Dead Sea. And I mean that in the best possible way.