10.02.2013

The Heavens Rise, by Christopher Rice

I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 15 October 2013.

The Heavens Rise
It's always a curious experience to read the work of a writer who had a parent who was a famous writer. You can't help but compare them to their parent, especially if they're writing in the same genre. I've read Anne Rice, but not for a very long time, because I always wanted to take a red-inked chainsaw to her overgrown prose. Her son, Christopher Rice, thankfully, doesn't have that problem. The Heavens Rise is a chilling book that speeds along to its spectacular conclusion.

The novel is narrated as a round between Ben Broyard, Marshall Ferriot, and Niquette Delongpre's journal. Ben Broyard has been friends with Nikki and her boyfriend Anthem Landry for years. When Nikki disappears in high school, it breaks Anthem but drives Ben to turn his insatiable curiosity and outspokenness into a career as a journalist for New Orleans' number two newspaper. Ben knows that Marshall, a sadistic, spoiled rich kid, had something to do with Nikki's disappearance. But he can't act because shortly after Nikki and her family disappeared, Marshall attempted suicide by diving out of a several stories high window, broken his neck, and ended up in a coma.

This would be enough to set up an interesting mystery, especially when Marshall recovers from his coma and tracks down Anthem and Ben. But The Heavens Rise is a horror novel. Early on, Rice introduces a supernatural* element to this story. Before Nikki's disappearance, Marshall had engineered a break up between Nikki and Anthem in order to try his luck with her. He can't control himself for long and pushes Nikki too far. They tussle in her family's pool at their isolated cabin, thoroughly dousing themselves in something that's in the water. That something gives Nikki and Marshall the ability to bend other people to their will and, if they bend their target too long, turn them into monsters.

Much of this information doesn't arrive until the last quarter of the book. For much of the preceding story, you have a seemingly unstoppable psychopath (Marshall) killing people left and right. Ben is investigating whatever his boss sets him after. You only get Nikki's side of the story from her journals, which only appear at the beginning and end of the book. Ben is a well drawn character, but Nikki frequently steals the limelight from him. I was much more interested in her story than in anyone else's. Marshall's story was not that interesting, to tell the truth. He's just evil, with no explanation given than that he's a rich boy whose parents indulge him. There's nothing to make him stand out from the scads of other sociopaths lurking around in serial killer fiction except for his mostly unexplained ability to control people's minds.

I think this book would have worked a lot better with just one narrator, one point of view. It would have been a better and scarier horror story if we, through our limited perspective, didn't know what Marshall was up to all the time. Rice does a good job of looping subplots back into the narrative, but for a while it threw off the pacing to watch Ben and his boss fight with the rich folks that bought their paper, for example. I think this book could have been fantastic if it had been told from Anthem's perspective, especially since he's the centerpiece of the finale.

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* A character explains the science behind this phenomena later in the book, but it still seems more supernatural to me than rational, if far-fetched, science.

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