Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Dead Lands - Benjamin Percy

The Dead Lands
Title: The Dead Lands
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publication Date: 4/4/15
Pages: 416
How I Found It: Uncertain
Date Completed: 11/29/15

Summary: Decades after a pandemic swept the country and nuclear attacks attempted to contain it, a city of around 40,000 struggles to survive in the desert of what was once Missouri. They think they are the only ones left, until a rider appears at their gates.

What I Thought: Kevin and I listened to this book as we traveled to and from Michigan over the Thanksgiving holiday. 24 hours in the car gave us plenty of time to both finish and pontificate about the book. Verdict? We liked it, but didn't love it. 

While Kevin complained that Percy resorted to so many dystopian and literary clichés, I was continually impressed with his writing. He did use clichés at times, but he kept the story unique enough that you remained engaged. Plus, Kevin's predictions did not all pan out the way he expected, which is always such sweet vindication for me. I hate when he guesses things in advance. In the midst of using some clichéd (or classic, depending on your perspective) plot techniques, Percy used beautiful prose, particularly in describing the remnants of middle America.

We both particularly liked how Percy did not explain how the country had come to such destruction right away. Instead, he spread it out throughout the book, only giving the reader as much information as you needed to proceed. 

The plot itself was interesting. It was very dystopian, especially in the beginning. As the book progressed, however, things got more science fiction-y. Several characters had special X-men style powers they were able to use and the plot ended up hinging on their unique abilities. Percy explained this in much the same way the comic does: radiation does not only create malformities but also accelerates the evolution of our species. Personally, I didn't love that whole element, but it was not so overwhelming as to be unbearable.

One thing I could not decide if I like or disdained was Percy's play on historical figures. The book centers around an expedition of characters into the western part of the country, seeking abundance and better land. They are led by Lewis Meriweather and Mina Clark. Their guide is named Gawea (get it?). Other characters include Aaron Burr and President Jefferson. You know I love history and so a part of me loved this homage to historical events and figures. Another part of me, though, was mildly irritated by the lack of subtlety Percy used. I think it will take me reading the next book (which we'll likely do) to make up my mind on this front.

The book is far from perfect, but the writing is beautiful and raw simultaneously and the premise is enough to keep fans of the genre engaged and entertained. I would recommend it, particularly as an audio book for long bouts of holiday travel. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Will I Re-Read: Unlikely
If You Liked This Try: Station Eleven / The Passage / Lighthouse Island 

A Reduced Review: Beautiful writing elevated this dystopia-meets-X-men novel to something I really enjoyed. 

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