If you are a fan of The Walking Dead television series and have not read the comics, I would recommend not reading this review… nor would I suggest your read this novel. If you were so inclined, I would suggest reading the first novel in this series, The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, for what should be obvious reasons… otherwise, you have been officially warned.
The second in a planned three novel arc about everyone’s favorite The Walking Dead villain, The Governor, The Road to Woodbury focuses on a side character from both the comic and The Walking Dead video game from TellTale, Lilly Caul. Unfortunately, the back story given for Lilly in the novel do not match the back story for Lilly in the game… so there is that immediate discrepancy, but regardless… we get a tale from one woman’s perspective from living with a large community and how she goes from there to Woodbury, where her eventual fate lies.
If you are a fan of the comic you probably know what role Lilly plays in the overall arc… if you are not sure, she is the woman who takes out Lori and Judith during the final attack on the prison, and ultimately takes out the Gov himself. If you are caught up in the show you will know that she is not responsible for Lori’s death… so again, a major divergence… which is good… albeit confusing at times thanks to four different variants of one particular universe… but hey, it’s all genre fiction anyway.
As the story opens, we are introduced to Lilly, her high school stoner friend Megan, Bob, the friendly older alcoholic that Lilly has been taking care of (yes, that Bob from the comic), and Josh Lee Hamilton… a very large and very gentle man who is keen on Lilly… they all live with another hundred survivors in a field under a large tent taken from a circus whose inhabitants have all gone missing. Immediately we are face to face with the greatest hazard in these novels… an author who must write his books with a thesaurus at hand in order to beef up every sentence.
Although I enjoy the story… which considering the fact that I’m a fan of the comic, the television show, and I am reading the novels should be crazy obvious… something about Jay Bonansinga’s writing style irks me a little bit. I had this same issue with Rise of the Governor, but I didn’t hone in on what it was that was bothering me… until now. I think the very nature of the horror genre lends itself to more gore… at least in the visual realm of film or TV… but something about writing that gore into a story seems a bit off… and Bonansinga definitely gets as much gore in as he can with as many adjectives as possible… which in the end leaves me a bit cold. I can’t recall ever reading a novel of war with such anatomical detail and such descriptions of various fluids whether it be blood, bile, pus, or otherwise… I imagine we would get the idea if the author simply said they jammed a knife into a zombie’s skull as opposed to giving us the details of how many layers of flesh and bone the knife pierced into and detailing the gray matter spilling forth, etc. I get the reasoning… this is horror… but it tended to bog down the actual story itself at time… and at 277 pages, the story could have been beefed up a bit while sacrificing a great deal of the numerous ways in which to describe gore.
That said… I did like the story Kirkman and Bonansinga brought to the page (I’m being very vague about the plot of the story because I want to leave something for the reader to be surprised by). I certainly preferred the earlier half before she and her group made it to Woodbury and felt that the original plot wrapped up a bit too quickly in order to get to Woodbury and back into the wacky world of The Governor. At that point, it’s essentially fan service so that we can have a better understanding of the residents of Woodbury and The Gov’s role as it’s leader. Comic readers will be happy to see a few familiar faces as well as a few more explanations for why things are as they are… but I’m not sure how non-comic readers will react… or whether any non-comic reader would even bother.
If you are a completionist, someone who must delve into all aspects of something you love… and you love The Walking Dead, go ahead… give this a read. If you are a casual fan or someone who could not care less about zombies… I can’t recommend this novel. I will certainly read the third book in this trilogy… and I will enjoy it despite my better judgement… but I can’t in good conscience call this a good book. I will, however, say one nice thing… my biggest complaint about Rise of the Governor was with regards to a twist at the end that strained my ability to suspend disbelief… although The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury has something resembling a twist towards the end, it was far more believable and palatable for my tastes.
Read this for the roots of the zombiequarium,
Cornelius J. Blahg