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Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

There’s an idiom I never thought I would have to call upon when writing these reviews. After all, I pride myself on being so consistently original, why would I ever want to repeat myself? Well, this is the magic phrase: lightning never strikes the same place twice. And here’s what I said about Feed by Mira Grant, “I know, it’s almost a perfect oxymoron: an intelligent zombie novel.” Well, Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory is a second specimen! It’s a miracle — like suddenly having twins. Being a man, you would understand my surprise should this happen to me. In the space of two weeks, picking books randomly off the shelf, I’ve managed the impossible. What makes this even more remarkable is that, having found Mira Grant’s effort excellent, I’m now forced to find more superlatives because, if anything, this is better. Indeed, I would go so far as to say this is the best zombie book I’ve read this century and, if there’s any justice in the world, this should be nominated for a clutch of awards. One point of clarification, however, that if this is twins, they are of different gender. Flesh is an intelligent book about the slow-moving feral variety of zombies, but Daryl Gregory is writing about intelligent zombies!

So, let’s clear the dead wood away (I faithfully promise not to make any more of these pathetic jokes). This is the third novel from the Daryl Gregory stable and I confess to being completely underwhelmed by The Devil’s Alphabet. I was therefore a little cautious when I picked this up, with expectations varying wildly between the unspeakable and the inedible — not that I’ve ever actually wanted to eat a book, of course, but I like unsuccessfully pursuing foxy idioms. As it turns out, I found myself completely beguiled and hooked. This is an author finally emerging from the chrysalis of inchoate being so that, when he breathes, gusts of wind turn the pages of a book halfway round the planet.

Daryl Gregory looking remarkably pleased to be one with the LDs

With the pages turning themselves, we read about Stony’s discovery as a newly born baby in the arms of his dead mother. Then, as he grows, we follow his life in the depths of the Iowan countryside. As a result of a well-intentioned expedition to rescue his “sister” from a threatening party where she’s drunk, spaced out on drugs, and vulnerable, he’s forced into an underground railway modelled on the escape system for black slaves. Hiding in safe houses, Stony learns about the politics of being one of the living dead. Unfortunately the political situation degenerates into a minor civil war between the factions, and Stony is captured by the government. In captivity, this gives Stony ever more time to study both himself and others. In a sense, he makes himself the test subject in a number of experiments to explore what he is and whether there are real limits to what he can achieve. All this allows Daryl Gregory the chance to demonstrate a rigorous approach to the construction of his narrative as every page brings some new insight into the state of the living dead. Fortunately, he develops the logic of Stony’s initial discovery and the way in which he first begins to grow, following this thread to a singularly unexpected but, in retrospect, entirely predictable conclusion.

Of all the clever things associated with this book, the most impressive is the way it morphs seamlessly from one genre to another. In simplistic terms, we can classify this as science fiction meets horror that then morphs into a blend of supernatural and fantasy. I suppose we could say it ends with the metaphysical but, by then, we should all have abandoned any attempt to classify the book. It’s simply a delight, rather like one of these chocolates with an intimidatingly dark chocolate covering that turns out to have a wonderfully sweet and soft centre. No matter what your genre interests, you should put aside all prejudices and read this. Raising Stony Mayhall is destined to be a classic!

This book was sent to me for review.

For reviews of other work by Daryl Gregory, see:
Afterparty
Unpossible
We Are All Completely Fine.

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