Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Review: Ex-heroes by Peter Clines

permuted press
274 pages

It helps that I read a novel right before this one that I could not stand, but either way Ex-heroes is one of the best novels I read this year so far. It would be easy to describe this novel as Watchmen with Zombies but that is cheap. To me Ex-heroes is the best serious zombie novel I have read since the explosion of Zombie trendy madness. I know I wrote a Zombie novel myself, but if you noticed it was a satire and most of the modern novels make my eyes roll just in concept alone. The reality is that the concept of this novel probably would have caused the same knee-jerk reaction from me if I had not had this book recommended to me by someone I trust.

It would be easy to look at Clines Bio and think that the author was thinking of Hollywood pitch session when he came up with the story. "It's superheroes with zombies," while not a ground breaking concept (see Marvel Zombies), and sure it sounds like a cheesy Hollywood pitch but it doesn't matter. Why? For starters this story is so well told nothing else matters. Clines organized the plot and told the narrative so well that the novel crackles with story telling intensity. Clines told the shit out of this story.

The Story is set in post zombie Apocalypse LA, where a group of former super heroes help a group of survivors live on inside the walls of a Hollywood studio complex. Instead of zombies the walking dead are referred to as Ex's, as in ex-human. Secret identities lose meaning, and the struggle that is life after the end of the world takes a turn for the worst. Could it be that ex's are getting smarter or is their a super villian out there ready to fight the heroes.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion set up in “Then” and “Now” structure. The now chapters are told in third person and the flashbacks revolve between separate first person narratives. In the hands of weaker authors the first person narratives switching voices would not work, but they are perfectly placed in the story so they make sense. Depending on what the story needs the flashbacks either explain previous chapters or set up the chapters ahead in the story. This is all done with a drummer's perfect rhythm.

This is a strong novel so what could possibly make it stronger? “Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, vigilantes, crusaders for justice, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place.” The characters are original and interesting superheroes, which considering how many have been done in the last century is saying something. They are also rich and written with emotional depth.

The suspense beats work will and there are true moments of terror in the novel, not an easy thing to pull off when most of your characters are super humans. Clines also manged to disturb me in a scene where a zombie mother drags her living dead infant down a street with a rope tied to her waist. He left to our imagination, and for me I shuddered at the thought of the dying mother not wanting be separated from her child even in death. Brutal.

I could nit-pick some of the dated humor that comes with cheap jokes about celebrity zombies, but really I laughed most of the time. This really is a near perfect genre mash-up novel. Everybody who knows me, knows I am hard sell as this is a genre I have mocked in my own novel. I am excited for the sequel, and intend to follow the author in the future.

This novel needs to be a movie. Paramount or Warner bros should be in octagon fighting for this one.

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