Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ex-Patriots (Ex-Heroes book 2) review

    Despite my desire to get this in audio-book, I got caught up in so much that I had to wait until I could get it in Kindle form. I only finished it about a half-hour ago and I am now ready to give my thoughts on the work. I'll try and avoid spoiling anything more than you would normally get from the back cover and instead talk about what I enjoyed and felt could be improved.

    For those who like their reviews short and sweet, here's the short version: Ex-Patriots is a worthy sequel to Ex-Heroes and continues the story in an enjoyable fashion that not only progresses the story but also has some nice social satire that works surprisingly well.

    To get the obvious comparison out of the way before the book begins, Ex-Patriots seems inspired (at least partially) by George Romero's third zombie film Day of the Dead. Peter Clines is well aware of this and nicely acknowledges his inspiration in the text. At the risk of using an overblown comparison, he does Day of the Dead right.

    As most fans of the Romero Zombie films know, DOTD didn't turn out the way George Romero wanted. Having envisioned a story about how the government and military would deal with the problems of zombies, budgetary issues transformed it into a story about eight guys dealing with the zombie apocalypse. Some of which, whom, were soldiers.

    It's a testament to George Romero's skill as a filmmaker some interesting points about the military, isolation, and society were still made despite general agreement it's the weakest of the initial four movies. Peter Clines, unrestricted by Hollywood budget, gets to expand the response for how the military deals with the situation.

    Likewise, as he's stated in numerous interviews and the book's afterword, he's not interested in vilifying the military either. Instead, he strikes a careful balance between treating the military as mostly fundamentally decent people and the fact that their training and rules are ill-suited to the Post-Apocalyptic world of Ex-Heroes.

    Ironically, I think Peter Clines gives some nastier and more cutting satire of the military than he might have had he treated them as the "EVUL military" zombie movies usually do. The army's "Stop Loss" program and internment being justified under real life present-day laws works as a much more powerful indictment of current abuses of power than any amount of DOTD "evil soldiers" could. This is not Independence Day jingoism, also referenced in the book, and we see that the military is able to mount an effective offense against the zombies but is not able to win.

    It's a nice medium between the usual, "the military would utterly crush a zombie apocalypse" and "the military is too stupid to beat the zombies" which seems to be the usual two extremes faced in zombie fiction. World War Z, for example, has plenty of detractors for its depiction of the US military's handling of the situation. Honestly, I think plenty of people will disagree with Peter Cline's depiction of the US armed forces but they are at least allowed to keep their dignity. This, despite their semi-antagonistic role.

    Ultimately, though, the book is about the superheroes of Ex-Heroes as opposed to the personnel of the military base they find within the book. Zzap, Stealth, Saint George, Cerberus, and the new character of the Driver are all given ample screen time. Amusingly, I like to think of this book as the third and fourth trade paperback of the series as much as I do it as a novel.

    The book feels even more comic book-y than its predecessor and that's not an indictment. With the zombie apocalypse out of the way, we can focus more on superheroes kicking butt and taking names. If there's one complaint I have, it's the fact that it's a little TOO much like a comic book in terms of character development.

    Despite being almost a year after the events of Ex-Heroes, the characters are pretty much where we left them. Saint George is still pining hopelessly for Stealth, Stealth is slightly less frosty but still keeping everyone at arm's length, Queen Bee is still offering herself to Saint George for guilt-free sex, etc. I wouldn't mind if Peter Clines did a little more character development in terms of everyone's relationships and where exactly they're going.

    The new character of Captain Freedom is a bit over-the-top for the more grounded characters of Ex-Heroes but is a worthy addition to the ranks. I'm less sold on the Driver but still liked him despite having less background on him than others. Frankly, the oddest thing I have to say in this review is I'm pleased that Peter Clines included an ethnic minority as a major character. Not enough books remember to do that.

    I really enjoyed Ex-Patriots and if this was a comic book then I would buy every issue. I am officially on board with the series and will state that I am sure this book is about equal with the original. Even if I don't like some of the elements, these complaints are very mild. The book is a fun mixture of action, heroism, social satire, and comic book references that make it delightfully fun even when the situation is grim and horrible.


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