I’ve become a bit of a Walking Dead fanatic, thanks mostly to the show. I knew there was an ongoing comic series, but the show was where I first discovered The Walking Dead, and as I wait between seasons for more stories, I find myself wanting to read more about the characters and the world they inhabit. So, when I found this book, co-written by a guy who wrote a pretty impressive debut novel (The Black Mariah, though I can’t guarantee that it’s held up all that well), I figured this was one way to get more stories between seasons.
I get the feeling that Robert Kirkman’s name is on this book because he created the world and the characters in the novel (and because his name is more likely to draw in potential readers), but that Bonansinga is the real writer of this story. I say that not only because Kirkman is a comic writer and not a novelist, but also because the tone of the writing is very different than that seen in the comic. I’ve always liked the clipped, frantic pacing of the comic, and in the novel, things take a bit more time to develop. In fact, the novel is mostly just character development, since the character is already familiar to readers and viewers, and this story just serves the purpose of giving more of his backstory. There’s a thin plot holding the story together, but beyond that, we’re just here to see what’s going on with the Governor.
Anyone familiar with The Walking Dead knows that the Governor is bad business, but depending on where the reader is starting, the novel will either work or it won’t. The Governor from the comics is far grittier, deadlier, and psychotic than what’s seen on the TV show, and even the look of the character between the comic and the show illustrates this. Comic Governor is wiry, feral, and menacing; Show Governor is puffy, charming, and skeevy. I’m OK with the two variations of the character (what Comic Governor did wouldn’t be very good for TV ratings and/or continuity), but it creates a serious issue when the creator decides to develop that character. Rise of the Governor is about Comic Governor, but the graphic design of the cover suggests that the novel is marketed toward fans of the show. That’s going to create a lot of dissonance in the reader.
The book doesn’t get as dark as what was seen in the comic, but I get the feeling that’s coming in future books. The ending clearly makes it part of a larger story, and even though I didn’t think it was a great book, even though I didn’t have much interest in reading the rest of this series of books, the ending was unexpected enough to catch me by surprise. Part of me wants to keep reading out of a morbid curiosity to see if the writers are good enough to make the ending work as a start for the rest of the series, but I’ll be honest: Part of it is just that I want to see what happens. So while I don’t think the book is as strong as either the comic or the show, the authors at least knew how to pull me in and keep me interested.
There are other bits about the concept of expanding the Walking Dead universe that just didn’t work for me. By now, everyone who follows either story knows that it doesn’t take a bite to make someone a Walker. Now, though, I’ve watched characters learn this twist four different times. Not only have I read about it in the comic, seen it on the show, and read it in this novel, but I also watched it happen in the video game, too. It’s a nifty twist, and one that makes the story darker and more hopeless, but if you’re following the story in more than one format, then the emotional impact of learning it again is meaningless. Better writers may have been able to work with that and make it impactful again, but here it just became “Yeah, yeah, we know, move along.”
I wouldn’t recommend this to any but the most rabid fans of the series, but just be aware that if you do start with this volume, you’ll likely find yourself reading the rest of them. But if you’re only a casual fan, or just a fan of the TV show, don’t get suckered in by it. You’re just going to be disappointed.