Thursday, July 23, 2015

Heavens, No!

I'd hardly say I'm a "fan" of Christopher Rice. I'd read only two of several novels he'd published (though I apparently only blogged about one). Still, I liked those two well enough to circle back around eventually and try another -- which I recently did when I read The Heavens Rise.

This novel is perhaps the closest thing to Rice following in the footsteps of his mother (Anne Rice). It's certainly the most "horror" of his books. It centers on a small cluster of friends whose high school past is catching up with them after nearly 10 years. A young, angry man has been in a coma all that time since trying to force himself on a girl he liked (and the revenge-plan-gone-wrong he cooked up afterward). Now he's awakened from the coma, to discover he's developed the power to subvert a person's mind and force them to do what he wants.

The first two-thirds of this book are quite solid, with Rice deftly handling a number of elements. His characters are diverse and interesting. The sense of creeping dread is chilling. The New Orleans setting is conveyed vividly. Time hopping between events in the present and the past is effective in escalating tension and building interest.

But then the book takes the most bizarre turn at the start of the final act. The novel makes a jump from psychological horror to visceral horror, when a completely new dimension to the villain's power is exposed. The new facet is nonsensical, untelegraphed, and unearned. The book then launches into a bizarre "superpowers vs. superpowers" conclusion -- at least hinted at in the novel's buildup, but no less bizarre.

The result is a book that coaxes you in under false pretenses only to jump off the deep end. This isn't a case of a final act twist not delivered well; it's more like someone else took over writing for the original author 60 pages or so from the end.

The Heavens Rise is certainly my least favorite of the Christopher Rice novels I've read. I give it a C+. There's enough great technique early on in the book to save it from a truly scathing grade (and to encourage me to try Christopher Rice again some day). But I feel so pranked by the bizarre ending that I really couldn't recommend it.

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