Set in Sydney, on the island of Cape Breton in 1986, Rise of the Mudmen follows a group of teenagers as they deal with the fallout from a virus that is spreading like wildfire through the east coast community turning their friends, family and neighbors into the undead.
The story is told through alternating viewpoints of four main characters – Alex, Nicole, David and Kaitlyn. Before coming together, each character offers up their own experience of Sydney’s breakdown as the virus quickly swallows the town. As a reader, I really enjoy this method when implementing a larger cast as it allows for a greater exploration of a story when it comes to world-building. Although I’m sure he wasn’t the first to do it, the collection of teens reminds me of Stephen King’s It and the kids that make up The Loser’s Club. They’re likeable and you really care about them – which is important when it comes to horror, otherwise it’s all just blood and guts and apathy.
To date, I haven’t read a lot of fiction that takes place in my hometown, so it was really fun seeing familiar spots used as set pieces as well as locations around town that are mentioned in passing. With the 80s very much in fashion these days, it was refreshing that Thompson doesn’t rely heavily on the trend of using it strictly as a plot device. I imagine it was chosen more so for the fact that information did not spread as quickly as it does now in 2018, allowing gossip and the odd newscast to fill in the gaps – at least in the beginning.
Although it can be classified as a YA novel, Rise of the Mudmen isn’t conservative when it comes to violence nor does it shy away from the scares. There are moments when tension is built to an almost unbearable degree; like watching characters in a movie venture into a dark and murky basement or when kids split up in the forest at Camp Crystal Lake. There’s also lots of rooms for those jump-scares we all love, when things appear safe and sound before something wicked has to spoil all the serenity.
Rise of the Mudmen is an eerie and enjoyable novel with lots of heart. I had a blast reading it and look forward to what James has planned for the future.