Book review–Prepare for war with Greg Keyes’ War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations

Review by C.J. Bunce

Three years ago this month we last saw the wise ape leader Caesar and his army in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Next week Caesar brings the war to mankind in the theatrical release of War for the Planet of the Apes.  Titan Books has released the prequel to the film that bridges Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, Greg Keyes’ War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations.  And the title is quite appropriate as secrets are learned by both sides in the man vs. ape battle that has spanned the franchise’s 50-year history.

Author Greg Keyes, who provided us with the wonderfully detailed account of the apes and the virus that strikes in his prequel to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm, a Best of 2014 book reviewed here, returns with an equally compelling account of the characters as they have matured and begin to grow battle weary.  No longer is Caesar–the great ape leader played in the films by Andy Serkis–or his followers and an opposing faction of apes struggling with communication.  Now the key conflict is ape vs. ape as Caesar attempts to direct the apes toward a peaceful compromise with the humans.

We at last meet the character to be played in the new film by Woody Harrelson, Colonel McCullough, hell-bent on destroying the apes at any cost.  But Keyes pulls from history to develop both a Shakespearean tale and an ancient one.  In Ancient Roman history, when rule was passed upon death from father to son, frequently the empire would learn that sons of great leaders are rarely so great.  Keyes creates a parallel study of the Colonel and his unseasoned soldier of a son, John, and of Caesar and Caesar’s son, proven to have been weak on the battlefield, too.  Each of the son of the Colonel, and the son of Caesar, called Blue Eyes (played in the films by Nick Thurston), have impactful character arcs here.  And both the Colonel and Caesar must face opposition of their own–the Colonel from what fragment of the government is left, and Caesar from the remaining loyalists to the great tragic figure of Koba, who was dropped from a cliff by Caesar at the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Koba loyalists Gray and Red attempt to seize control of the apes from Caesar, sending a contingent to eliminate Caesar’s wife Cornelia and her newborn son, and another to subdue Blue Eyes, sent off to search for new territory, as McCullough concocts a plan to decimate the apes at the Golden Gate Bridge.  But the humans aren’t all horrible, we meet a compassionate human, a translator named Armand, and a girl named Feliz, both instrumental to the outcome of the apes as we will find them at the beginning of War for the Planet of the Apes.

As with Keyes’ prequel to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the author shows a great understanding of animal behavior.  These apes are fully realized characters, their development and relationships easy to follow, their motivations are understandable, and it is easy to empathize with them.  Keyes also shows his understanding of the evolution of thought and behavior–echoing writings of ancient man as man began to document his own understanding of the world–in the words and actions of the newly evolved apes, as they learn to understand their dreams, to reason, and to grow.

War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations is a must-read for Planet of the Apes fans.  It’s on par with the best of the novelizations and tie-ins produced for the series over the past fifty years.  Pick up a copy here at Amazon now.  You still have time to enjoy it before the film premiere–War for the Planet of the Apes arrives in theaters July 11, 2017.



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