15 October 2013 “But Ben Broyard, pipsqueak that he was, always looked at Marshall as if there was a stink coming off of him, as if he could detect the dark thoughts Marshall nursed about people who made him angry and thought they were kind of stupid even if they did involve knives and rope.”
The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice
As soon as I saw that Christopher Rice (yes, he is the son of Anne Rice) had a new book coming out this year, I knew I would read it. I have read all but one of his other books (I just happened to miss its publication, and have not had time to request it from the library). Even better, Rice ran a promotion where if you preordered the book and sent a receipt to his publisher, he would send a signed manuscript page. I went ahead and ordered, but was even more excited to be granted access to a Galley copy before the book was published!
The story switches between two time frames, eight years apart. In 2013, we see how the mysterious disappearance of Nikki and her family just before hurricane Katrina significantly impacted her boyfriend (Anthem) and best friend (Ben). Unbeknownst to them, strange things are happening around Marshall, a classmate of theirs who was declared brain dead after a suicide attempt a week after Nikki’s disappearance. Animals strangely die near Marshall’s room, and nurses claim if they make eye contact with him, he can make them do things they don’t remember. In his heart he wants revenge on Nikki, and to do that he will target those she cared about, if only he could wake up. Interspersed between the growing horrors in the present, the events of 2005 are explained from the character’s point of views and from Nikki’s journal. From these the mystery surrounding Nikki and Marshall begins to appear, and the real danger Ben, Anthem and the world are in starts to become clear. Will Marshall get his revenge, and how many people will have to pay his blood price?
I have to admit, I knew nothing about this book before I began to read it; I didn’t even know what genre it was. So I was a little surprised that it was a horror/thriller book, which I am not as familiar with as a genre, but I really enjoyed the book. Parts of it reminded me a good mix between his novels, A Density of Souls, and Light Before Day, my two favorite books of his! But there is a horror element that is added to make this one a truly unique book.
I think the one thing that did surprise me was that I actually liked some of the characters. Normally, if I don’t like any of the characters I can’t read a book, but Rice’s previous books were the exception to the rule. When I first read A Density of Souls, I was surprised that I really enjoyed the book, considering the characters were not particularly likeable or sympathetic (we knew too many of their dark secrets). In his other novels, I did sort of like the characters, but none stick out to me as people I would want to spend time with. However, in The Heaven’s Rise, I really liked Ben and Marissa, and I loved their interactions. With the plot bouncing between two time periods, the characters are what make the story really flow and easy to follow.
The character that steals the show though is Marshall. He is a truly horrible person! He provides a great antagonist and plot pusher. I was a little unsure of Marshall’s intentions for a bit, but there is a nice plot reveal later that makes everything work. Seeing parts of the story from his point of view actually make him even worse, as we learn the horrible things he is thinking or planning. The moment you recognize you really can’t sympathize with Marshall at all is when he realizes, “I decided not to kill a woman because it sounded like too much work.”
My favorite character had to be Ben, and the scenes with him were my favorites, and the parts that I most looked forward to. His own mother described him by saying, “My son is a verbal terrorist who doesn’t believe in personal boundaries.” He is very loyal to his friends, will track down any clue, and stand up for what is right, even though he is very small physically. However, he does have his flaws; the worst is that he doesn’t really seem to value himself, which just made me like him even more, even if I wanted to shake some sense into him. Ben really comes alive when he is with either Marissa or Nikki. He seems to need a strong female friend to feel happy, and they are very loyal to each other. One of my favorite passages was his friend, mentor and boss, Marissa, reassuring him that no matter what happens with her job (she insulted their company owner on the phone), that she would be there for him.
“No matter what happens with me and Hilda, I’m not leaving your life. Not now, not ever. And you won’t have to chase me from bar to bar to keep me in it, either. I owe you that much ‘cause you’re my friend, and you’re a good one. And I promise you, the only time you’ll have to say good-bye to me is when one of us is leaving this great earth. Got it?”
One of my favorite things about reading either Rice or his mother is that if their book has New Orleans in it, they bring the landscape to life for you. Rice was able to brilliantly bring to life the swamps of New Orleans before Katrina, and how much the city changed after the hurricane. I feel like I know the city so well from their combined books, and as this is the first to talk about a post-Katrina city, it was fascinating and a bit bittersweet. The city did provide the perfect backdrop to this horror story.
The mystery and the horror element really worked for me. It was introduced slowly enough that it kept me guessing as to what had really happened. I don’t read that many mystery novels anymore because I usually guess the ending, but Rice is able to keep me guessing. He also does not hold back, there is a trail of bodies by the end of the book, and a lot of the action happens in very quick succession. Some horrific things do happen, and probably the worst thing is that even if you know how it is happening, if you were in that situation there would be nothing you could do! In the afterword Rice suggest his fans should be called “Mind Monsters” (after something in the book), so count me as a Mind Monster.
Final Verdict: An exciting horror/thriller that keeps your interest until the end.
The Heavens Rise: A Second Look
“Niquette is living proof that things done can’t be undone. Nothing will put her family back together again. And nothing can save her. But as Niquette, Ben, and Anthem uncover the truth of a devastating parasite that has the potential to alter the future of humankind, Niquette grasps the most chilling truths of all: someone else has been infected too. And unlike her, this man is not content to live in the shadows. He is intent to use his newfound powers for one reason only: revenge.”
The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice
The Heaven’s Rise by Christopher Rice is a supernatural horror/thriller set in New Orleans. The story is based around the mysterious disappearance of the DeLongpres’ (Nikki/Niquette and her parents). The story is set in the present day, but there are numerous flashbacks to the days leading up to and the days after the DeLongpres’ disappear. Although the police found evidence that the DeLongpres’ had had a car accident and crashed into the swamp, there is much more to their disappearance than that. Through the flashbacks that are told by various characters who were affected by the DeLongres’ disappearance (e.g., Anthem–Nikki’s boyfriend, and Ben–Nikki’s best friend), the mystery slowly unfolds. It becomes clear that Marshall (another high-schooler) was obsessed with Nikki, and when she rejected him, she barely made it out alive. In the struggle, Nikki and Marshall were exposed to a parasite that gives them bizarre and dangerous abilities. Lucky for Nikki, Marshall thought killing her would be too much hard work at the time so she escaped. Just days later though, the DeLongpres’ disappear, and a week after their disappearance, Marshall attempts suicide. Years later, Anthem and Ben are still distraught over the disappearance of the DeLongpres’, and Ben, now an investigative reporter, is still searching for answers. Marshall is in a vegetative state, but animals have a way of exploding around him, and the nurses’ claim that if you look into his eyes he can make you do anything, even kill yourself. There’s only one thing Marshall wants to use his powers for – to get revenge. If only he could wake up!
I struggled to finish reading The Heavens Rise. I think my perseverance to finish every book that I read was what led me to finish this book. I just couldn’t connect with the story. I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you like mysteries that unfold slowly.
The beginning of The Heavens Rise really captured my attention. Rice paints a really clear picture through his descriptions of both the characters’ surroundings and the characters themselves. It made for quite a vivid read. I was also intrigued by what had happened to Nikki and because each flashback was from a different character’s memories, I enjoyed piecing together what happened. Marshall’s character stood out the most. He is has such a strong character voice and he’s terrifying. The chapters where the reader sees the events happen through Marshall’s eyes were scarily brilliant. His thoughts were entirely uncensored and downright awful. He fantasizes over killing Nikki, for instance.
However, everything kind of goes South once Nikki disappears and Marshall attempts suicide. I found the pacing of the book from there on to be excruciatingly slow. There were too many lengthy descriptions of the surroundings and too much time spent purely inside one character’s head without much dialogue. The problem is that nothing really interesting happens for two-thirds of the book. The story goes back and forth between Ben and Anthem, and Marshall. I found that the chapters where the focus is on Ben and Anthem were boring. Ben and Anthem are trying to cope with Nikki’s disappearance. Ben is an investigative reporter and the reader learns about what Ben went through after Hurricane Katrina, and Anthem drinks. The chapters that focus on Marshall are more interesting. The reader learns about Marshall’s mysterious abilities and sees how he uses them to hurt people. Even these chapters are slow though. They are often from the perspective of other characters that are around Marshall, and there’s an awful lot of fluff in between the times Marshall does anything with his abilities. Although Marshall’s behaviour should have delivered the horror element of this book, the slow pacing tamed the horror down so much that it didn’t really feel like horror. There was just too much build up to each bit of action that happened. The action that did happen was brilliant, but it was too few and far between to keep my attention.
I wanted more of the supernatural. Marshall’s abilities were fascinating, but once the reader gets to the last third of the book, it’s clear that there is so much more to it. It’s here that the story takes an unexpected shift. What was just a plain old mystery over the disappearance of the DeLongpre’s takes a turn into Strangeville. Okay, so there have been some strange things already in the book considering Marshall’s abilities, but things get even stranger! The reader learners that Marshall’s abilities are caused by a parasite that infected him near the beginning of the book. The reader also learns more about the abilities that the parasite gives to the infected and, most interestingly, what the boundaries of those abilities are. It’s in this part of the book that the monsters appear. Not just your average monsters either. These monsters are really grotesque (Rice’s descriptions here are really vivid!). Although the twist in the plot is interesting, the reader is told almost everything through Nikki’s journal. It would have been more interesting to see these things unfold during a few action sequences in the book. As a result, it fell a little flat. This information was important for the ending of the book though. The ending was weird and I’m not sure if it was good weird or bad weird. You’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean.
Final Verdict: A slow read that’s ultimately mind-boggling. You’ll either love it or hate it.