& Review: The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy. Fiction. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy. Fiction. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing.

The Book Itself: Actually a really great cover. Ominous, creepy, foreboding, but strong. The title is overgrown and wild, while the author line is separate, to-the-point. It’s a book I would take off the shelf just because I liked the cover (which is what you’re looking for in a cover!) if I hadn’t heard about it from so many different sources before its release!

My Review: In Benjamin Percy’s new thriller, a post-apocalyptic reimagining of the Lewis and Clark saga, a super flu and nuclear fallout have made a husk of the world we know. A few humans carry on, living in outposts such as the Sanctuary-the remains of St. Louis-a shielded community that owes its survival to its militant defense and fear-mongering leaders.

Then a rider comes from the wasteland beyond its walls. She reports on the outside world: west of the Cascades, rain falls, crops grow, civilization thrives. But there is danger too: the rising power of an army that pillages and enslaves every community they happen upon.

Against the wishes of the Sanctuary, a small group sets out in secrecy. Led by Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, they hope to expand their infant nation, and to reunite the States. But the Sanctuary will not allow them to escape without a fight.

I can picture Benjamin Percy coming up with the idea for this. He’s tipsy, ruminating on life as one does. He reads the title of something on TV or a piece of paper involving Lewis and Clark and goes: I know. A futuristic Lewis and Clark! Or he’s really into this Lewis and Clark biography a friend recommended. And he thinks: dystopia! 

Either way, it’s the nerdy-cool combination that sci-fi writers drool over. Of course, I read this on the heels of Ex-Heroes (superheroes and zombies, man!), so my nerdy-cool mash-up meter is pretty trippy. But regardless: this one is pretty good.

It follows pretty darn closely the real Lewis and Clark story. So if you’re a history buff (I will admit, I am not), the plot is going to be pretty predictable. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to read! You’ve got post-apocalyptic stuff in place of the real world obstacles. No grizzly bears or mosquitos here. Instead, there are eerily intelligent wolves. Vultures that respond to human thought. Radioactive mutations of everyday animals. And tribes of survivors that don’t like to be disturbed.

The book tries to keep two halves of the story moving along. One side follows those left behind in the Sanctuary, and the second side follows our intrepid explorers in the wild. It’s hard to really round out one of the storylines and not let the other one suffer. Not enough time is spent on one of them, and both of them suffer from plot twists introduced too late in the game: neither of them get enough time to develop falling action, so they end where they should really start picking up.

There are some really beautifully done scenes. The plot is heavy on description of the world gone wild and overgrown. The beasts are just as, if not more frightening than the people trekking through their territory. I mean…there are giant spiders. Just saying.

Some characters are better developed than others, and the ending’s a bit shaky on both ends of the story. But it’s very well written, and one heckuva ride.

My Grade: C

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