Deadlands Rising wraps up the Deadland’s trilogy. Cash, Clutch, and the diminished group of close nit survivors that they call family are working on making it to the promised safe haven in New Eden, to the west of where they have been fighting to survive in Iowa for the bulk of the first two books. New Eden is a fenced in community in Nebraska surrounding an old abandoned missile silo. Marco, last of the squad from New Eden sent out to find survivors, promises to lead the group to safety behind its walls.
The first two novels of the trilogy followed the path of most zombie sagas with an equal mix of catastrophe and despair served up on almost every page. This novel follows a slightly different track. The author has modeled all three works after Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, with the first representing hell, the second purgatory, and this, the third book, heaven, or paradise. The seven virtues laid out in Paradiso are laid out as section headings of this book, with the flavor of the third act is distinctly different from the first two. Paradise is more of a wish than reality for the survivors, with the threat of the undead diminished, but never too far away. The zombies have either migrated with the hordes to the south where it is warmer or have started to freeze solid in the bitterly cold Midwestern winter. They are less of a threat and have been replaced with new dangers that are perhaps even more dire for the few living humans who remain.
I gave the author credit for crafting massive, almost unfathomable hordes of the undead churning up everything in their path in the previous book. A slow moving, undeniable destroyer of all in its path was a concept I’d not seen used to effect in other zombie novels. In the third book, she takes another intriguing result of a world ravaging plague and squeezes as much potential terror out of it as possible. Wild packs of dogs, abandoned by their owners, have managed to survive by feasting on the dead-devouring the undead they could cull from the herd. Infected with a variation of the plague, they do not turn but have the equivalent of rabies. With as fervent a hunger as the undead and a bite that is equally lethal, they serve as both symbols of fear and tragedy. Innocent, those not destroyed and devoured alongside their masters get to suffer a fate far worse than death, through no fault of their own.
Of course, rabid animals are not the only threat in the conclusion to this saga. Facing a brave, or terrifying, new world in the aftermath of the plague is one of the biggest struggles the characters face. What will happen and who will be guiding humanity’s attempts to rebuild are the daunting questions they must face, along with the consequences of the paths those who lead decide to follow.
The author does an excellent job of bring this story to a conclusion which should satisfy most readers…especially those who have likely grown weary of what I would dub the ‘never ending story syndrome’ that is rife in apocalyptic fiction and in other genres as well. Authors who insist on leaving plotlines open and loose ends loose so more of the story can be told in either another trilogy or another book with no promise of completion. Rachel Aukes wraps things up nicely here, with no loose ends. While the author pulled no punches when it comes to how grim things got for the main characters, a spark of hope remained throughout the story, even when it threatened to be snuffed out for good on numerous occasions.
The connection to The Divine Comedy is, for the most part, in the background enough that someone unfamiliar with Dante’s masterpiece will not get distracted by it, though those who are familiar with it should appreciate the author’s efforts at sharing the zombified version of a journey through hell, purgatory, and the attempt to rise up into paradise.