It would be easy to pigeonhole THE HEAVENS RISE as yet another Southern Gothic novel because it is written by Christopher Rice and set in the swamps and riverways in and around New Orleans. But a quick label ignores the inventive horror story that this book tells and the broad appeal it will have to readers interested in a good blend of creepy, strange, dark and romantic.
In high school, Nikki, Ben and Anthem were inseparable. Nikki and Ben had been best friends since they were little, and when Anthem transferred to their high school, Nikki and Ben were immediately attracted to the handsome teenager. Thus they became a trio. The romance between Nikki and Anthem was the stuff of fantasy, and Ben was more than a third wheel --- he was their voice of reason and rationality. Everything was wonderful for the three until Marshall Ferriot tried to take Nikki from Anthem. Handsome but disturbed, Marshall had long desired Nikki and harbored ill will toward Anthem. When Nikki and Anthem had a fight, Marshall saw an opportunity to break them up and then appear to be her friend.
"THE HEAVENS RISE has elements of fantasy, romance, and race-against-the-clock adventure.... an entertaining and chilling story published just in time for Halloween."
Marshall's dream seemed about to come true when Nikki took him to her family's country property called Elysium. There Marshall pulled Nikki into the family's new spring-fed pool with him in a show of violence. The water that filled the pool in Elysium was swarming with tiny parasites that flocked onto Nikki and Marshall. The few moments in the pool, before Nikki escaped and left Marshall behind, will change them both, the people they love most, countless strangers, and perhaps all of New Orleans forever.
When Nikki and Anthem get back together, thanks to Ben, Marshall was enraged and planned his revenge on Nikki. His plan resulted in the mysterious disappearance of Nikki and her parents on the road to Elysium, which left Ben and Anthem stunned and heartbroken. Just days later, journalist Marissa Hopewell witnessed Marshall's bizarre suicide attempt.
Eight years go by, and Marshall is living in a nursing facility in a vegetative state. The nurses who take care of him begin to notice the dead bodies of small animals and birds outside Marshall's window and become afraid. When one nurse is found brutally killed in his room, the effects of Elysium parasites begin to be clear to readers, and Ben and Anthem are drawn into a dangerous showdown between Nikki and Marshall.
THE HEAVENS RISE has elements of fantasy, romance, and race-against-the-clock adventure. Though it’s basically a horror story, Rice incorporates characteristics of other genres and the lush Louisiana setting to enhance the storytelling. The parasites are a compelling vehicle for terror, and Marshall Ferriot is a classically scary bad guy. Ben and Anthem are both stereotype-defying heroes, and Nikki is the compelling character who holds everything together. Supporting characters like Marissa Hopewell and Nikki's father, Noah Delongpre, are interestingly written as well. The theme of revenge looms large in this novel as do questions of free will and choice.
Rice plays with the traditional understanding of monsters, the power of the mind and emotions, and is mostly successful. These themes and questions could have been examined a bit more closely, but that does little to detract from the fact that THE HEAVENS RISE is an entertaining and chilling story published just in time for Halloween.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 17, 2013