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Monday, November 7, 2011

"Ex-Heroes" by Peter Clines (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the Book HERE
Read an excerpt HERE

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 SFF debut.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, vigilantes, crusaders for justice, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place.

Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Despite the best efforts of the superheroes, the police, and the military, the hungry corpses rose up and overwhelmed the country. The population was decimated, heroes fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland like so many others.

Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions must overcome their differences and recover from their own scars to protect the thousands of survivors sheltered in their film studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. The heroes lead teams out to scavenge supplies, keep the peace within the walls of their home, and try to be the symbols the survivors so desperately need. For while the ex-humans walk the streets night and day, they are not the only threat left in the world, and the people of the Mount are not the only survivors left in Los Angeles. Across the city, another group has grown and gained power. And they are not heroes…

FORMAT/INFO: Ex-Heroes is 261 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 Trilogy.

February 25, 2010 marked the paperback and e-book publication of Ex-Heroes via Permuted press. Cover art is provided by Garret DeChellis.

CLASSIFICATION: Mixing zombies with superheroes in a desolate Los Angeles. Peter Clines’ world of Ex-Heroes is 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 however 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 for review copies and they graciously sent both the books over promptly. I was hugely excited to see that it 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 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.


bascule said...

Read this back in May. I loved it, superheroes vs zombies, that's a pretty much unbeatable combination for me. Thanks for the heads up on Ex-Patriots, only 2 left on Amazon, well, just 1 now.

Another great superhero novel I read last year was "Devils Cape" by Rob Rogers. Don't know if you've seen it, but well worth checking out.

The Reader said...

Hi Bascule

Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well, Ex-Patriots will have to be very good to top Ex-Heroes.

Yeah I read Devil's Cape a while ago and loved it as well. I have reviewed it on the blog as well.


Addicted2Heroines said...

Great review! I've been contemplating reading this one for a while. I'll have to check out Devil's Cape too. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this book as well, and I'm glad to see coverage of non-published but excellent work.

Mihir said...

Hi Cat

Thank you, hope you do give both books a shot, IMO both of them are dark but enjoyable reads.


Mihir said...

@ Anon.

Thanks, I think you mean small (Independent) press. Ex-Heroes was published by Permuted Press last February.


bascule said...

Don't know how I missed that review, I pop by most days.

Ex-Patriots was delivered 2 hours ago, my wife has taken it and given me the money, it is going to be a christmas pressie for me. Cr*p!

DArvin said...

ex-superheroes in a post-apocalyptic world vs zombies - sounds AWESOME! and well written you say! to batmobile robin! we must read this book at once!

The Reader said...

@ Bascule

Good luck with the wait mate ;) hope you enjoy Ex-Patriots whenever you get your hands on it.

@ DArvin

Its a nice mix which keeps the reader thoroughly entertained. Hope you enjoy it :)


Red Tash said...

I am LOVING the sounds of this one. Right up my alley. Another for the TBR pile.

Pabkins said...

I'm glad to hear you liked it - this is also one that got lost in the pile of books to be read on my shelf. I really need to get to it!!

Pabkins @ Mission to Read

The Reader said...

@RedTash & Pabkins

Hope you enjoy the book, the sequel Ex-Patriots is out as well.



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