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The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy
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Into The West.

If you have been reading as long as I have, you will have come across more than a few post-apocalyptic novels. I’m not exactly sure what the attraction is, but I think it might be the contradictory pleasure of destroying one world and re-creating another. Whatever the case, a writer needs to find a fresh new take if they want their book stand out. The Dead Lands, by Benjamin Percy has some new angles, but it didn’t blow me away.

The Dead Lands is essentially based on the western adventures of the Corps of Discovery; two of its main characters even share almost identical names; Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, which is kind of conceptually audacious, but aside from that it doesn’t mean too much.

In the future, one hundred fifty years after war and disease and famine have nearly destroyed the world, St. Louis, now called the Sanctuary, is a shielded community that has managed to survive through a militant defense and draconian leadership. Life there is brutal and harsh, unless you are the Mayor or one of his cronies. For all they know they may be the last city left in the world, until one day a rider shows up, claiming to be from the West, with tales of bountiful water and food, but also the threat of a dangerous army, bent on conquest. Her name is Gawea. The Mayor, who is almost a caricature of the evil bureaucrat, wants to execute her. A guard, Clark, and the town historian/curator, Lewis, decide to sneak out of the city and head West. They are followed by a small yet plucky group of ragtag explorers, and the rest of the novel follows the explorers on their trek, and some of their friends left in the city who decide to rebel and overthrow their dictatorial leaders.

Mr. Percy’s prose is startling, but at times stilted. He knows how to plot, and keeps the various story-lines and characters rolling along. The action scenes were well-handled, and there was a lot of suspense. The main problem I had was with the characters. There are a variety of types, but I found most of them boring. With the exception of Mina, I was pretty much indifferent to their fates. While I kept reading to find out what would happen next, I really didn’t worry about the fate of most of the characters, which damped down the tension a bit. It wasn’t a question of them being likable or unlikeable, but just flat.

My other complaint was that near the end the action felt very compressed compared to the pace of the rest of the novel. It felt like Mr. Percy didn’t want to past a certain length, so he had to cram a lot in at the end. The world was a bit wonky as well, with giant vampire bats and charters developing “super” powers, which took away from what was otherwise a gritty and believable world. What frustrated me was that this book was so close to being a real knock-out, but fell just a little short. The Dead Lands is a solid novel, but I’m really looking forward to see what Mr. Percy does next.

Review by: Mark Palm
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Reading Progress

May 10, 2015 – Started Reading
May 10, 2015 – Shelved
July 10, 2015 – Finished Reading

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