Note: This review is based on a courtesy copy provided by NetGalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books.
Christopher Rice is a back with The Heavens Rise, a supernatural thriller that follows four young people as they fall in love, encounter evil and clash violently as they become pulled into a supernatural mystery that could mean the end of mankind. Taking place in two times separated by 10 years and horrifying tragedy, Rice weaves together a storyline that is hard to put down, though, I must admit it was confusing at times as the action jumps perspectives as well as across the time without warning. For much of the beginning of the book, you’re not quite sure where he’s going with this, only expecting some supernatural/horror element because those are the genres into which the novel is classified.
Interestingly, it felt like one novel in the opening and morphed into another one when Rice finally fills in the main conflict of the novel. The parasite that leads to the violence and evil throughout the novel is almost glossed over in its introduction. Which gave this novel more of a feeling that it was really two half-formed novels hastily stitched together.
Set in Louisiana, I was missing some of the spooky, bayou-filled atmosphere many reviewers mention. It just wasn’t descriptive enough for the setting to stand out, especially since it was supposed to be so integral to this novel. Frankly, I enjoyed the way Rice’s mother treats the setting in her novels better (Rice’s mother is the venerable Anne Rice, who also sets many of her novels in Louisiana). Where the younger Rice rises to his mother’s reputation is in his characters. They are not only completely believable (even when they are acting differently because of the parasite that is central to the plot), they are intricately tied despite filling very different roles within the narrative. The only problem with the characters is that I pegged them wrong at the beginning. For most of the first chapter or two I thought the good character was a jerk and the evil character was misunderstood. I don’t know if that is something Rice intended, but it made it feel like he changed his mind, making me trust him less.
As with most thrillers I’ve read, I enjoyed the plot, once the plot actually got around to happening. Once Rice finally clues you in to the fact that, yes, there is something terribly wrong going on, then I was hooked. I didn’t even need to understand it (which you don’t at first) to be swept along with the slowly building action. But, boy, does it ever build. While maybe a third of the novel is rather slow and packed with character development, the last two thirds was straight suspense, building and building until I almost couldn’t stand to read any more. And when I was finally done, my heart was thumping uncontrollably. That’s a good thriller, if you ask me. Plus, there are some truly heartbreaking passages about how two of the characters experience and survive Hurricane Katrina. It feels a little like Rice added them as an afterthought, but they help the reader understand those characters better, which all plot devices should accomplish.
The bottom line? Even if it was a slow build, it’s definitely worth it, if you can make it to the thrilling parts. If he had focused his earlier prose a bit more, I probably wouldn’t have had to fight so hard just to get to the good stuff. And, if Rice had given his setting as much attention as his characters, I might have given it high marks. Instead, I give it a 3 out of 5.