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Monday, April 1, 2013

RE-REVIEW: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read the prologue and first chapter HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Peter Clines 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Ex-Patriots
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Junkie Quatrain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of 14 

INTRODUCTION: In the last three years, Peter Clines has gone from a small time author who was published by zombie specialist publishers Permuted Press to a guy whose wonderful books were bought over by a big time publisher. I had previously blogged about these things over here and here. Suffice to say I’m extremely glad that Peter has taken this step.

Previously when I reviewed the book, I quite loved it and so when I got a chance to read the new edition, I was very much looking forward to it. This edition basically has the same story line with almost very little differences. There are of course some editing changes that help the story and which are to be expected. Overall though I would say that these differences are very minor ones.

When I re-read the story I found it to be as mesmerizing a read when I first read it nearly two years ago and so I would like to present my review from 2011 as I think it covers all the salient features of the book that made it feature so high in my 2011 year end list. I've made some changes in my review as well to reflect the new edition. So go ahead and be sure to pick up the "mainstream" debut of this terrific book!

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Original 2011 Review of Ex-Heroes:

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Clines was born and brought up in Maine, he moved to California when he grew up and worked in Hollywood for a number of years. He has also been a prop master for several movies and TV shows. He has written reviews for the Cinema Blend website as well as for the Creative Screenwriting magazine. He has previously interviewed many famous film personas such as Frank Darabont, Paul Haggis, Kevin Smith, George Romero, Akiva Goldsman, David Goyer, Mark Herman, Nora Ephron and many others. He lives in Southern California and this was his debut.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place. Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Billions died, civilization fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland.

Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions protect a last few thousand survivors in their film-studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. Scarred and traumatized by the horrors they’ve endured, the heroes fight the armies of ravenous ex-humans at their citadel’s gates, lead teams out to scavenge for supplies—and struggle to be the symbols of strength and hope the survivors so desperately need.

But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the city’s ruins. And just a few miles away, another group is slowly amassing power . . . led by an enemy with the most terrifying ability of all.

FORMAT/INFO: Ex-Heroes is 312 pages long divided over a prologue, twenty-seven numbered/titled chapters, and an epilogue. 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. Ex-Heroes is self-contained and is the first book in the Ex-Heroes series.

Ex-Heroes was previously published on February 25, 2010 in the paperback and e-book format via Permuted press. It was re-released in paperback and e-book format on February 26, 2013 via Broadway Paperbacks (Crown Publishing) in the US. Del Rey UK will be releasing it paperback form on July 11, 2013 while it has already been released as an e-book on March 29, 2013. US Cover art is provided by Jonathan Bartlett.

CLASSIFICATION: Mixing zombies with superheroes in a desolate Los Angeles. Peter Clines’ world of Ex-Heroes can be best summed up as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead meets David Gemmell’s Legend meets The X-Men.


ANALYSIS: I had been noticing Ex-Heroes since last year (2010) but it kind of got lost in my “Books-to-be-checked” list. However Amazon’s recommendations made sure that it was never really out of my mind, as it always used to pop up every now and then. After the release of Ex-Patriots the sequel to this book, I contacted the publisher (Permuted Press) for review copies and they graciously sent both the books over promptly. I was hugely excited to see that the story was focusing on superheroes coupled with zombies and I was hoping that it would not disappoint.

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 that 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 that they can cherish for a long time to come.

CONCLUSION: An excellent debut that 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’ 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.

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