Well, since I seem to be going through a phase of reading spin-off novels, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to re-read S.D.Perry’s 1999 novel “Resident Evil: Underworld”. This is the fourth novel in Perry’s “Resident Evil” series (you can find my reviews of the previous three books here, here and here ) and it tells an original story that isn’t based on any of the “Resident Evil” videogames.
This was a novel that I first read at some point during my mid-late teens. Since I didn’t remember much about it other than reading the shockingly dramatic epilogue during a train journey, I was eager to see if it was still as dramatic as I remembered.
However, I should point out that, whilst this novel theoretically works as a stand-alone novel (since there are a lot of recaps), the story and characters will make more sense if you’ve read the previous three novels before reading this one. But, if you’re familiar with the first two “Resident Evil” videogames, you can probably get away with just reading the second novel (“Resident Evil: Caliban Cove”) before reading this one.
So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Underworld”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
Set in 1998, the novel begins with a series of news reports that detail the destruction of Raccoon City. With all evidence of the zombie plague destroyed, the nefarious Umbrella Corporation has pulled some strings and placed most of the blame for the incident on both the city’s police chief and the members of the force’s elite S.T.A.R.S unit.
With many of the S.T.A.R.S members hiding in Europe, the remaining members of the resistance against Umbrella (Leon, Claire, Rebecca, John and David) are driving to a private airfield in Maine with a plan to join up with them when several cars filled with Umbrella’s henchmen give chase. After a spectacular car chase and gunfight, the team manage to get to the airfield and take off before reinforcements arrive.
Halfway through the flight, Leon gets up to use the bathroom, only to be interrupted by a mysterious man emerging from the cockpit. The man is none other than Trent, the shadowy informant who has given the team crucial, but cryptic, information about Umbrella in the past.
Trent has engineered a face-to-face meeting with the team because he needs their urgent help in recovering a code book from a secret Umbrella facility in Utah that is due to go online in a matter of days. Reluctantly, the team agree to travel to Utah instead…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a gloriously cheesy, and thoroughly entertaining, sci-fi horror thriller. Yes, it’s a bit different to all of the other “Resident Evil” novels and, if you’ve read some of Perry’s “Aliens” novels, you’ll probably spot the familiar formula of “confined space plus villain equals drama” here, but it’s still a lot of fun to read 🙂
I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, which are less prominent than you might expect. Yes, there is a fair amount of suspense, lots of monster horror/scientific horror and some moments of gory horror, but this novel isn’t the kind of gruesome zombie gorefest that you might be expecting. In fact, there isn’t a single zombie in sight.
Instead, there are several hilariously awesome mutant creatures (eg: acid-spitting goat-lizards, pterodactyl-bats etc…) in addition to the “hunter” monsters from the first videogame. The sheer level of creative silliness here gives the story more of a “brilliantly fun B movie” atmosphere than a horror novel-like atmosphere. If anything, this novel is more of a wonderfully cheesy action-thriller novel than anything else.
But, what a thriller novel it is! From the spectacular opening car chase/gunfight, to numerous suspenseful moments, to a few dramatic set pieces, to the story’s twin plot threads, this is a textbook example of a fun action-thriller novel.
The best parts of this take place in the test chambers of the Umbrella facility which, like an evil version of “The Crystal Maze” or the levels of a videogame, are split into four themed zones (eg: forest, desert, mountain and city) that each introduce a new type of monster for the characters to fight. It’s contrived as hell, but is so much fun to read 🙂
All of this is also paired with a few more traditional thriller elements and a fast-paced writing style that really helps to keep this novel gripping. Like any good action-thriller story, this is the kind of novel that is just good relaxing fun to read. It is the kind of story that you can blaze through in two or three thoroughly satisfying hours.
As for the writing, it is really good. This novel’s third-person narration is written in the kind of informal, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a fast-paced thriller. It is the kind of writing style that grabs you and carries you forwards through the story at a decent speed. The novel’s action scenes all have an appropriate amount of impact (plus, it’s always fun to see a novel that uses the word “KA-WHAM” when describing explosions) and there is just enough focus on descriptions and characters to give the story a bit of atmosphere too.
In terms of the characters, although the novel has a relatively large main cast (eg: five or six main characters, plus Trent and the villain), they all seem like distinctive people with personalities and backstories. Yes, the novel’s characterisation partially relies on you having read the previous three novels in the series, but there are enough recaps and there’s enough characterisation here to do the job.
In addition to this, it’s interesting to see that this novel also contains some more subtle hints about the possible romance between Leon and Claire that was hinted at in Perry’s “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”. Plus, the epilogue also contains a stunningly dramatic moment of characterisation that provides a wonderful payoff for people who have been reading the series.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 244 pages in length, this novel feels wonderfully streamlined. Likewise, whilst the first half of this novel has a few slower dialogue/recap-heavy moments, this novel is a textbook example of a fast-paced thriller 🙂
As for how this twenty-year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although it is the kind of gloriously cheesy sci-fi horror thriller that could only have been written during the 1990s, this just evokes nostalgia for a more innocent age when thriller stories could be a bit sillier. Not to mention that the writing still feels fast-paced, the action scenes still feel dramatic and the story is still incredibly fun to read too.
All in all, this novel is fun 🙂 Yes, the “Resident Evil” purists amongst you might be disappointed by the lack of zombies but, if you can get over this, then you’ll be rewarded with an absolutely awesome “late night B movie” of a novel 🙂 It is one of those gleefully silly, yet wonderfully compelling, stories that is fun in the way that “so bad that it’s good” ’90s monster movies like “Primal Species” are 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.