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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Walking Dead: "The Road to Woodbury," by Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga

Title:  The Road to Woodbury        
Plot Type:  Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Horror  
Ratings:  V5; S3; H1
Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books (hardback, e-book, and audiobook, 10/2012) (paperback, 6/2013)

     This novel is the second of four books in this lopsided "trilogy." Click HERE to read my review of the first book: The Rise of the GovernorThis novel is the follow-up to Rise of the Governor, which focused on the pre-Woodbury experiences of Philip Blake, the cold-hearted (and deeply disturbed) man who becomes the infamous Governor of Woodbury, Georgia, in the early days of the zombie apocalypse. In The Road to Woodbury, the Governor tries to maintain control of his minions as he struggles with the duality of his personality. Click HERE to read my review of Rise of the Governor.   

     The Road to Woodbury follows the star-crossed adventures of a small group of survivors who start out in a doomed tent city and eventually make their way to Woodbury. If you're a fan of the comics, you will find discrepancies in the back stories of some of the characters in this book, so you may not be happy with the content. If you've skipped the comics but are watching the show, the only character you'll recognized (as of this date) is the Governor.   

     The leading character is Lilly Caul, an insecure, fear-addled young woman who joined the tent city after the death of her father. She has found a protector in Josh Lee Hamilton, a giant of a man who was a well-known chef in pre-zombie times. Josh portrays the stereotypical "magical Negro" character that has become a familiar horror-story trope, and the reader can easily picture him as a twin of John Coffey's character (Duncan) in Stephen King's Green Mile filmthe gentle, patient, wise giant who assists the protagonist.(In fact, some of the Woodbury low-lifes actually nickname Josh "Green Mile"and it's not an affectionate gesture.) Lilly and Josh are forced to leave the camp under unfortunate circumstances, and they hit the road accompanied by Bob, an alcoholic ex-military medic; Lilly's friend, Meghan, a druggie who has begun using her body as a means of income; and Scott, Meghan's stoner boyfriend. We follow their short road trip as they meet up with a few zombies and then have a confrontation with the Governor's thugs.   

     When the group arrives in Woodbury, they meet the Governor, who is in the early stages of his rule over the ragtag population. From their first moments in Woodbury, Lilly and Josh have a feeling that bad things are happening behind the scenes.

     The main plot points made in this book are these: 
 >  The Walkers (or "Biters") are multiplying and are beginning to travel in deadly herds, which are getting bigger and bigger. 
 >  The Governor has allowed the scum of Woodbury to run the day-to-day life without many rules, but as time passes, he begins to crack down (which results in the Gladiator games that we saw this season in the TV show). 
 >  The cause of the zombie plague is still unknown.
 >  Lilly is irrevocably changed by the events that take place in this book.
     As is always the casewhether in the comic, the TV show, or the booksyou can be very sure that some of the survivors will diesome that you love and some that you hate. That is definitely true in this book. Let's just say that Lilly's little group winds up much smaller by the end of the story. (That's not a spoiler; that's just the facts of life in the zombie apocalypse.)

     This book doesn't have the punch that Rise of the Governor had. That book was a grim but fascinating study of the development of a major Walking Dead character. This book deals with supporting characters, and it doesn't provide many details about their pasts, so we don't always know what is driving them to do the things they do. Lilly's rebellious actions near the end of the book seem to come out of nowhere. All through the book she's been a relatively passive creature, living most of the time in crippling fear of the herds of feral zombies and the scary hoodlums in Woodbury. Then, all of a sudden, she dreams up a revolutionary plan and talks some relatively tough characters into following along with her. That entire situation comes across as highly improbable.

     I listened to the audiobook as well as reading the print version, and I highly recommend the audio version. Fred Berman does a great job of telling the storydifferentiating the voices and emphasizing the suspense, tension, and horror of the frequently graphic situations. The following scene, for example, is much more terrifying to listen to than it is to read. Here, the tent city has been overrun by a horde of Walkers, and Lilly realizes that a little girl is trapped under a collapsed tent surrounded by zombies: "Lilly whirls toward the tent and sees something that stops her heart. Shapes are moving under the fallen circus tent. Lilly drops the shovel. She stares. Her legs and spine seize up into blocks of ice. She can't breathe. She can only stare at the small lump of fabric undulating madly twenty feet awaylittle Lydia struggling to escapethe sound of the child's scream dampened by the tarp. The worst partthe part that encases Lilly Caul in iceis the sight of the other lumps tunneling steadily, molelike, toward the little girl. At that moment, the fear pops a fuse in Lilly's brain, the cleansing fire of rage traveling through her tendons and down her marrow." (p. 41) When I read the scene on the page, I pictured it as separate graphic novel cellscolorful but static chronological snapshots. When I listened to Berman's reading, though, I got an entirely different impression. In fact, the whole scene flowed like a movie. It was easy to imagine the screams of the living mixed with the guttural grunts of the zombies, the sight of the sickening zombie lumps under the tent closing in on the little girl, the terror-stricken Lilly, with her heart racing and the look on her face changing from fear to horror to all-out rage. I could picture them allin a fast-moving stream. This happened in many other instances throughout the book, and I have to say that the audiobook, for me, was a much more satisfying experience.

     There were a few scenes that seemed to be included solely to give the reader a graphic comic impression, particularly the one in which a throng of zombified circus performers still dressed in their now-ragged costumes appear out of nowhere and briefly chase Lilly and Josh through the woods, never to be seen again. That seemed to be a scene devised specifically for its artwork possibilities, and it didn't work as well on the printed page. The book is full of moments like that, and they tend to slow down the story's flow as the reader pauses to imagine what a graphic artist would do with each scene. 

     Fans of Walking Dead will want to read the book just for the experience and for the bits of back story on Lilly, the Governor, and others (even though they frequently contradict the comics). Fans of the TV show won't care so much about those contradictions. They've barely met the Governor, and they don't know Lilly yet, but they'll learn about the origin of the gladiator fights, the fish tanks with the human heads, and the back story of Penny, the Governor's pet zombie. 

     As is always true in Walking Dead stories, this one overflows with seriously gory graphic violence and dark acts of brutality. It's not for the faint of heart, but if you're at all squeamish, you wouldn't be reading Walking Dead books anyhowright?

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