Top positive review
Excellent genre blending debut
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on November 7, 2011
Mixing zombies with superheroes in a desolate Los Angeles. Peter Clines's world of Ex-Heroes is George Romero's Dawn of the Dead meets David Gemmell's Legend meets The X-Men. All chapters are either divided into "Then" or "Now" sections. Narration is in the first-person for all "Then" chapters and in third person for all the "Now" sections. The POV's both first person and third person are via Stealth, Gorgon, Cairax, Regenerator, Cerberus, Zzzap, The Mighty Dragon, Lady Bee, Banzai, St. George and a few minor characters. The author has quite cleverly divided the book into the past "then" and present "now" sections and thereby maintaining the tension in the story while going forward as well giving us the crucial back story. The "now" begins in the current where a sizeable portion of humanity is holed up in Paramount Studios which has now been renamed "The Mount". The humans within are surviving from the horror outside wherein zombies freely roam and look for fresh human meat, the zombies in this world are called "Exes" as in Ex-humans. The human population though has an upper hand with the super heroes who are protecting them.
Stealth, Gorgon, Regenerator, Cerberus, Zzzap, Lady Bee, St. George and a few others have shepherded humanity and are doing their best defeat the zombies while also searching for a cure. The "then" sections focus on each superhero separately and we are given a clear look into their beginnings, this leads to a very precise picture about each of them while differentiating their personas in the reader's minds. The story then begins as the heroes forage on almost a daily basis and try to retrieve as many tangible goods as they can with a few normal volunteers however they have been noticing that some one is competing with them and also leaving booby traps which creates further problems. The story then escalates as the people of the Mount find out who it is that has been hindering their survival and what do they want which leads to the question "what will they do to survive?"
I completely loved this book and while it was a debut book, it didn't feel so at all. With a very clever but not wholly original premise, the author unleashes a very exciting story which grabs the reader's attention and then proceeds to charm the reader in a variety of ways. Firstly the plot is a great one as the story begins with a scenario which should appeal to most zombie/apocalypse enthusiasts. From then on the author keeps the story moving forward with some great twists as well as the past recollections of each superhero. This tactic keeps the twin story strands; the past and the present constantly entwined while delivering the clues about the enemy and also illuminating the mistakes of the past. I was thrilled with the way the story was presented and how in the end the author managed to pull it off by coalescing all the threads and resolving all the questions arising in the readers minds.
The author has also aced the characterization department as we are given access to many characters and all of them have vastly different personalities and agendas. This was what differentiated the characters from being comic book clones. And even though most of heroes have their own issues a la the X-men, the author has conveniently provided the back stories which clue the reader in to these issues. Another tremendously exciting point was the humor which is present in all forms through out the story, from the black humor laced conversations to the celebrity zombie hunts; the author manages to make the darkness of the situation a little lighter. There also tons of references to various comic book characters, movies, SFF shows, books etc. making it an interesting read in addition to all the previous plus points.
Lastly this book's climax draws parallels with David Gemmell's classic debut Legend, in the sense, the reader gets a sense of claustrophobia as the holed up survivors try to defeat an enemy who has massive strength in numbers while also facing problems from within. Granted that David Gemmell's book was built on that single premise whereas over here the book's climax is a one long drawn out fight which will have the readers flipping pages to see who survives & who doesn't and what is the final outcome. For me I got that overall Legend-like vibe and kudos to the author for making the climax that much exciting.
I really loved this book for all of its good points which made it such a fun read, however the parts combined together make it an excellent book all together. I would have point that I really couldn't find any deficiencies or things to nitpick. One can point out that the author utilizes various tropes among the superheroes like the all invincible hero with the heart of gold, the secretive hero who stays alone even among the hero ken, etc. But with all the tropes being utilized Peter has still managed to put his own spin to these characters and the story thereby making it his own and one which can stand all amongst other wonderful debuts. After all almost all SFF novels utilize tropes in one form or the other and it is up to the writer to make them seem seamless within the confines of the plot. To his credit Peter Clines passes with flying colors in his debut by giving the readers a tale which they can cherish for a long time to come.
CONCLUSION: An excellent debut which spans many sub-genres and has a little bit of everything to satisfy most of its readers. Ex-Heroes is a standout debut in the superhero and zombie genre. Simply put I was completely floored by this book's ingenuity and charm; I definitely hope that Hollywood never ruins this one by making it into a movie. Heartily recommended for all fantasy, thriller, horror fans who would want to read a book which best exemplifies the real meaning of a page-turner. Peter Clines's debut easily makes him the most under-appreciated author of 2010 and now I can't wait to read what he has done next in Ex-Patriots.