Resident Evil City of the Dead (S.D. Perry)
City of the Dead is the third novel to expand on the story of the Resident Evil universe and the second to novelize the events of one of the games (Resident Evil 2.) While it isn't quite as atmospheric and creepy as the first book, nor does it have too much in the way of character development, City of the Dead has its moments of genuine terror while providing an action oriented story with little downtime. This is certainly a book that could be enjoyed by readers who have never played the games, even if some details are better enjoyed with knowledge of the game and its main characters. It may not be the most creative or spellbinding book around, but for a quick bit of entertainment, City of the Dead is an appropriate read.
The book is basically a retelling of the game's main events, two people caught in Raccoon City's zombie apocalypse proceeding to escape by any means possible, processed in a chronological and sensible way. While the game had two different discs allowing you to play as either rookie cop Leon Kennedy or biker girl Claire Redfield, experiencing many of the exact same events during your progression through the game, City of the Dead aptly condenses the story and divides it relatively equally between both of the leads. The plot is your fairly typical Resident Evil story, featuring progressively nastier monsters, insidious corporate conspiracies, and atrocious character interactions. It does manage to put a fresh spin on some of the most overused clichés in zombie films. I appreciated that the author skipped the usual stages of zombie acceptance with these two, moving straight from them encountering the zombies to them desperately trying to escape. This helped keep the plot moving and kept us away from the same old lines where the characters go something like "What is this? Could this be? Zombies? But HOW? I thought those were only in movies (demolishes fourth wall.)" Unfortunately, other than this you aren't getting much in the way of a meaningful or different story if you are a Resident Evil fan, outside of some mention of the activity of the other S.T.A.R.S. members during the prologue and epilogue. If that doesn't interest you, don't expect to be wowed by the plot of this book, and new readers definitely want to come into this book expecting a somewhat mindless, fun adventure instead of a thematic and nuanced horror story.
Where characters are concerned, this book could've been much better. While characterization has never been a huge concern for Resident Evil, each of the main players usually is treated to a decent bio and a few broadly relatable personality quirks. The main characters, Leon and Claire, are the embodiment of this as there is very little to define them as characters. They function very much like bland heroes trapped in a horrible situation, and there is little sense of personality to either of them beyond perhaps their origins. The book does provide some additional insights into the two more mysterious side characters from Resident Evil 2, Sherry and Ada. Ada is presented with a layer of emotional conflict that wasn't very visible in the game, and while she still has enough mystery to keep her somewhat compelling, it was definitely appreciated to be able to see her thought processes during her scenes. Sherry on the other hand is still an annoying kid, but on the bright side we learn a little more about her family life and personality through scenes told from her perspective. Irons was probably my favorite character, simply because it was fun to see a human antagonist that wasn't working for the conspiracy or granted superhuman powers. His slide into insanity was one of the few character progressions that we see in this book, and it helps to bring a horror element otherwise missing.
Unfortunately, whether due to the confines of the setting or script, this book just doesn't bring the creepy factor in the same way that The Umbrella Conspiracy did. For one, it is plotted much faster and tends to cut to different point of views more often, cutting out on a lot of the suspense in favor of more action oriented pacing. Additionally, the setting of a police station simply isn't as frightening as an abandoned mansion in the middle of the woods. Even if it was, we are quickly on to more pedestrian settings like secret labs and sewers before we even explore much of the police station. Finally, perhaps because it has already been talked about in previous books, the author makes very little effort to make the zombies vile and disgusting. While previous books in the series had brutal descriptions of horrible smelling living dead with flesh falling off their skin and exposed brains and so on, this book glazes over a lot of those gory details. Once again, the writing is certainly geared towards action and not so much suspense or horror, although there are some freakish parts. Most notably, the insane and possible necrophiliac police chief Irons, a previously unexplored character that brings a presence nearly as intimidating as many of the monsters, and the final "boss," Birkin, who takes on many shapes during his fight with Leon, each more sickening than the last.
As usual with Resident Evil stories, the dialogue is somewhere on the scale from downright laughable to wholly unconvincing. Even though there aren't anywhere near as many terrible lines as in the first game, writing a story based on the script of Resident Evil 2 must have been immensely challenging due to the fact that dialogue between the characters is so awkward and stilted. The relationship between Ada and Leon is particularly bad, and Sherry's lines are just as annoying as they are in the game, we just don't have to listen to an atrocious voice actor say them. The book does manage to capture the action very well though. There is a fantastic sense of urgency at several moments of the book, especially during the finale but also at some of the better moments of the earlier parts of the book (highlights include Leon being chased by the giant crocodile and Claire encountering zombies for the first time.) One thing that did disappoint me was the fact that ammo conservation and dwindling supplies never really came into play. In the game, one of the scariest concepts was that you could go up against a huge monster or horde of zombies and, if you weren't careful, have no bullets to encounter them with. In this book, there are token references to how many/few rounds a character has at any particular time, but it never approaches a dangerous level and they are certainly not having to go out of their way to scrounge for ammo or evade zombies (except at the beginning.) While I can respect that this was probably cut out in favor of a faster paced, leaner novel, the other books in this series have at least included it in some way. A change for the better involves the nearly complete abolishment of any of the puzzles that felt so out of place in Resident Evil 2. They worked in the creepy mansion, but just didn't fit with the police station setting. Not to mention, they translated very poorly to paper anyways.
City of the Dead is just about par for the course for tie in novels. It expands on the events of the game it is based on just enough to make it worthwhile, but it doesn't push the envelope or offer a truly stunning read. If you like zombies or the games this is based on this will be a nice light read, but if you don't there isn't anything here to hook you in.