I’m writing this review on behalf of Rosie’s Books Review Team and thank Rosie and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.
I read the first novel in this post-apocalyptic series The Dead Lands not too long ago (read my review here http://wp.me/p73X7h-24C) in preparation for the next novel. I enjoyed the first one (although I don’t read much in that genre, I had read another one of the author’s novels, and it had come very highly recommended) and was eager to see what would happen next.
The story picks up where the other one left of, or near enough. A much larger military expedition, this time headed by Colonel Paden, is sent to Hemera, officially to rescue the survivors of the first mission, but in reality to recover the treasure and wealth of the city that Paden has been assured is still there. Anybody who’s read the first novel knows that all the members of the mission are in for a surprise. Although they’ve been told there are some hostile life forms in the planet (that’s more than the first mission knew), nothing has prepared them for the mutated ever hungry creatures they meet.
The style of the story is very similar to the first one. It’s also written in the third person, with each chapter or part of the narration told from a different point of view. I did mention in my previous review that it made for a fairly democratic experience, and a pretty uncomfortable one at times, and that’s again the case. We are in the shoes (or the consciousness) of soldiers, male and female, of all ranks, of those in charge and those following orders, of male and female mutants… It does not necessarily help create empathy for the characters, but many of them are not likeable (and some are utterly disgusting, and I’m not talking necessarily about the mutants that after all have no choice in the matter) nor do they need to be. Like in the first one (personally I thought perhaps more in this one than in the first novel) there are characters who are easier to root for, like Ryan and his sister Jayde, Marshal, Darrell, Laila, Boone… Murdoch and Paden are the official baddies, although nobody can compete with Paden. He’s gross and horrible and… Yes, so bad he’s good. The behaviour of most of the characters is more loyal and morally sound than in the first one, perhaps because these are military men and women among the best, rather than a problematic team handpicked to die and not be missed like in the first novel. There are moments of extreme loyalty and self-sacrificing behaviour that keeps it emotionally satisfying in parts (despite the body count).
Although there is not much in the way of back story (like happened in the previous one) we get snippets of personal history, for example the history of Ryan and his sister, and we learn the reasons for Murdoch’s hatred towards Ryan (and even get several versions of the story). Overall, the book is mostly about the now and the action and mission the soldiers get landed in. Despite traumatic memories, the soldiers have to remain focused on the task at hand if they want to survive and because we experience the story from the points of view of the different characters we, readers, also get into the action mode, fearing where the next attack might come from, if we’ll make it out of the sewers in time, and if there’s any future at all out of that rat hole.
The novel questions issues of loyalty and morality, and highlights the fact that following orders is not a valid excuse when it leads to extinction and it’s led by greed (Marshal and his hesitation about following Paden’s orders reminded me of Starbuck wondering if he should follow Ahab’s. Ultimately, and I’m not going to spoil the novel for anybody, Marshal’s call is the right one, duty or not. And after all Ahab has his humanities, whilst Paden…). Rampant materialism, self-interest, egocentrism and narcissism are weighted against team loyalty, discipline and team spirit.
There is no humour as such in the novel, although sometimes the contrast between the situation and the point of view of the character the reader inhabits can create moments of utter disbelief and even some unintendedly funny ones (Paden can be annoying, disgusting but also quite witty at times). And I couldn’t help but chuckle thanks to a lovely twist involving a particularly grand mutant (that in fact is the mirror image of the colonel).
There are also interesting observations about the mutants, who are perhaps not the wild slaughtering and devouring machines they appear at first sight that might hint at future changes to come.
The novel has plenty of violence (like in a video game), with fights, shootings, descriptions of weaponry and gore, destruction, nasty smells, biological functions run amok, and injuries described in painful detail. This is not for the fainthearted or those who are looking for a nicely wrapped up and happy ending. Although the ending is perhaps less dark than in the first novel, at least so it seems initially, it has a twist in its tale and it leaves many questions open, including the future of Erebus.
Who do I recommend it to? To lovers of the post-apocalyptic genre who are keen on action, and do not mind descriptions of battles, destruction and explicit violence. Also to those who like to experience stories that go beyond the comfortable following of an unambiguous hero. And I especially recommend it to those with a good stomach who love to hate their baddies. Paden is epic.