Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a zombie novel that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D. Perry’s 1999 novel “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”.
I can’t remember if I played the PC port of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame before or after first reading this book during my early-mid teens. But, the original “Resident Evil 2” holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons (amongst other things, magazine articles about it were my first introduction to the zombie genre). So, I’ve been meaning to re-read this novel for a long time.
But I should probably point out that, addition to being a novelisation of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame, this novel is also a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” and “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove“. Although it is possible to read most of this novel as a stand-alone book, a few of the extra scenes (not found in the game) will make a lot more sense if you’ve read Perry’s previous two books first.
So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a collection of local newspaper articles from 1998, talking about police politics and mysterious murders in the US city of Racoon City. The novel then includes a brief (non-canonical) scene showing Jill Valentine returning to her apartment to pick up some stuff, before joining the surviving S.T.A.R.S team members as they prepare to flee to Europe.
The novel then begins the story of “Resident Evil 2”. A rookie cop called Leon Kennedy is running late for work after misjudging the traffic in New York. It is his first day on the force in Racoon City and he wants to make a good impression on Chief Irons. But, as he approaches the city, he notices that the streets are unusually deserted. Not long after that, he makes a grisly discovery.
Meanwhile, Claire Redfield, is riding her motorbike to Racoon City after not hearing from her brother Chris in several weeks. When she arrives in town, she decides to stop off in a local all-night diner, only to find that the cook has turned into a zombie and started devouring another member of staff.
As more zombies lurch towards her, Claire flees the restaurant and runs into Leon. Needless to say, both of them need to find some way to survive in this city of the dead….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really compelling zombie thriller novel that also does some clever stuff with the source material too. However, since it is a thriller, it doesn’t stand up to re-reading as much as I’d hoped (since the suspense works less well if you already know what will happen). Even so, it’s still a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride of a story that fans of the zombie genre and/or “Resident Evil” will enjoy 🙂
In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they mostly consist of lots of well-written gory horror, some body horror/monster horror, some suspenseful horror and a bit of character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t really that frightening, it’s considerably gorier than the original videogame and is a bit like a fast-paced splatterpunk novel (such as Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“) in some ways 🙂
Still, as mentioned earlier, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel. And, in this regard, it works really well. Not only is there lots of suspense, multiple plot threads (with mini-cliffhangers), a fast-paced writing style and lots of dramatic fight scenes, but the novel also manages to keep some of the survival horror elements of the original games. In other words, the characters are sometimes low on ammo and/or wounded in some way or another.
In terms of how well it adapts the original “Resident Evil 2”, this novel does a really good job 🙂 The novel follows Leon’s “A” scenario and Claire’s “B” scenario, interweaving both storylines absolutely perfectly. Yes, there are a few small changes (eg: Leon has the magnum from the start of the story, the gun shop guy is already dead when Leon finds him etc…) but the novel manages to cram pretty much every major moment of the game’s story into one book. Plus, some extra stuff too.
In addition to adding a lot of extra characterisation to both the main characters and a few of the background characters (eg: Ada, Sherry, Annette, Chief Irons etc…), the novel also includes a few extra scenes and references that link in with the continuity of Perry’s novel series. Whilst the scene involving Jill Valentine has become non-canonical ever since “Resident Evil 3” was released, these extra scenes are a cool bonus for people who have read the previous two books. However, they may be a little bit confusing if you haven’t.
In terms of the writing, it’s really good. As you would expect, this novel’s third-person narration is mostly written in the kind of informal, fast-paced, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a gripping action-thriller novel. But, in a nod to the source material’s horror elements, there is also more formal/descriptive narration during some moments of horror too 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 338 pages, it might seem a little long at first – but, considering that it is cramming two versions of the same game (eg: Leon and Claire’s campaigns) into just one novel, it is relatively short 🙂 Likewise, as I’ve mentioned before, this novel is a thriller novel, so expect a reasonably fast-paced story with some slightly slower suspenseful moments too. Surprisingly, this works really well, considering how slow-paced the original videogame is.
As for how this twenty year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although the story itself will probably evoke lots of 1990s/early 2000s nostalgia (and there isn’t a smartphone in sight 🙂 ), it is the kind of adaptation that could almost have been written today. It also has a level of gruesomeness that reminded me of the preview footage I’ve seen of the modern remake of “Resident Evil 2” (yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.)
All in all, whilst the novel’s thriller elements work better when you read this novel for the very first time, it is still a really great zombie thriller novel 🙂 Not only does it cram the whole of “Resident Evil 2” into just one book, but it also adds lots of extra stuff and is also more of an intense experience (eg: pacing, horror etc..) than the original videogame is too 🙂 Even so, you need to read Perry’s previous two “Resident Evil” books to get the most out of this one.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just get a five.