‘Ex-Patriots’ is the second book in a series of superhero/zombie mash-up novels from the pen of Hollywood-based writer Peter Clines. I reviewed the previous volume, ‘Ex-Heroes’, back in September and enjoyed its irreverent mix of action, horror and fun. Can Clines work the Tinseltown magic twice in a row?
The story starts on 4 July 2011, as the surviving humans in post-apocalypse Hollywood hold an Independence Day celebration. It is about eight months since the events of the previous book took place and two years since zombies took over the world. Even after all this time, most people still refer to the undead as ‘ex-humans’ or ‘exes’ as it makes the reality slightly easier to bear.
The couple of thousand local survivors live in a converted movie studio known as The Mount. They are protected from the five million exes that populate the ruins of Hollywood by a set of high walls which are patrolled by a small group of the most weapons-savvy humans, aided by the four or five super-heroes who have pledged to keep them safe. However, supplies are running low and they are forced to travel further and further outside the safety of The Mount on increasingly frequent scavenging raids that net them less material every time. Half-way through the latest frustrating raid, flying super-hero St. George hears what sounds like a plane travelling overhead and flies into the air to see what it is. It turns out to be a remotely-piloted Predator drone. This is the first clear evidence they’ve seen in months that there are any other organised groups of humans anywhere nearby. They all get very excited.
Soon enough, a helicopter arrives at The Mount, bringing with it a company of soldiers from the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, from which the drone was launched. These are not just any soldiers though. These are super-soldiers, changed by drugs and surgery into Schwarzenegger-like fighting machines that are almost the equal of the super-heroes. The soldiers invite them to come back to their base to see what they’ve achieved and to exchange intelligence. The super-heroes have mixed feelings about this offer, some welcoming it with open arms while others are openly sceptical about the soldiers’ motives. In due course, though, they agree to check out the base at Yuma as a first step. When they do, it turns out that the Army’s agenda is less humanitarian than it appeared at first and Stealth and St. George have to decide who the real enemy is.
What I enjoyed most about ‘Ex-Patriots’ was the characterisation. Clines puts a lot of effort into deepening his portrayals of the various super-heroes we first met in ‘Ex-Heroes’. St. George remains the almost perfect super-hero, yet his feelings of self-doubt lead him to welcome their initial contact with the army, hoping this will mean someone else gets to take the tough decisions in future. Dr. Danielle Morris, who designed and operates the giant robotic suit of armour called Cerberus, has developed a deep psychological reliance on the suit and becomes increasingly flaky on those rare occasions when she is forced to get out of it and operate on a normal human level. Their beautiful, ultra-rationalist leader Stealth continues to be almost as difficult to read as before but even she betrays her feelings on a couple of occasions. Equally, the new army characters are an interesting bunch, several of whom we get to know in detail thanks to Clines’ structural trick of telling the story for two chapters, then interrupting with a chapter of flashback that fills us in on a different character’s past each time.
The book has an element of social commentary, too. The Mount is basically run by Stealth as a benign dictatorship. On a couple of occasions, Clines shows us that although she is an extraordinarily capable leader, both organisationally and during fights, she simply doesn’t understand the frustration of those ‘ordinary’ residents who feel that they have no control over their lives any more. In the same vein, when we first encounter the army characters, they appear to be a bunch of steroid-addicted nutjobs. As the book progresses, we realise that although this is true of some of them, others are entirely reasonable people just trying to do their bit in a nightmarish situation. By the end of the book, we’ve learned that although even super-heroes and super-soldiers have flaws, that’s what keeps them human.
If you’re not so bothered about characters or social commentary, you’ll be relieved to hear that ‘Ex-Patriots’ has a kick-ass plot, great set piece action scenes, a lot of humour and a huge zombie body count, too.
I had a great deal of fun reading ‘Ex-Patriots’. It is a worthy sequel to ‘Ex-Heroes’ and shows that there’s plenty of life in the zombie sub-genre yet, particularly when you mix things up through the injection of a new element, in this case super-heroes. I hope Peter Clines manages to make the next book, ‘Ex-Communication’, just as enjoyable.
(pub: Del Rey-UK.432 page paperback. Price: £6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-09195-363-8.
pub: Broadway-USA. Price: $14.00 (USA), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-8041-3659-4)