The Deadlands by Benjamin Percy
The author, James Frey, describes this book thus, ‘THE DEADLANDS is gorgeous and haunting and full of heart like some wonderful offspring of The Hobbitt, The Road and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series’. That’s a pretty good appraisal of this book (see Rebel Voice Book Review, The Road)
Lewis is an inventor living in the barricaded city of St. Louis 150 years after a flu pandemic has created a global crisis which kicked off an apocalyptic nuclear war. He is unsettled but determined to hold on to the life that he has forged within the claustrophobic atmosphere of the fortified refuge.
Clark is both a Sentinel and Ranger who protects the city from outside threats such as the mutant sand wolves, as well as travelling into the wastelands to scavenge for much needed raw materials. She is troubled, and toys with the idea of escaping the confines of the wall that surrounds the 40,000 residents of St. Louis, who believe themselves to be the last of humanity.
Global nuclear war and fallout has caused fast and massive mutations, not only in the human population, but also in the flora and fauna. The world is a hostile place and the city is the only apparent sanctuary. Yet the human desire to explore is strong in Clark, and she is spurred into action with the arrival of Gawea, a young mutant female, who brings wondrous stories of a populated land of plenty along the Pacific coast.
Dwindling water supplies in St Louis have caused serious unrest, and the cruel and greedy Mayor-dictator, Thomas, is using ever harsher measures to quell any seditious activity. He employs Slade, his serial killer Sheriff, to brutalize the people and smother the stories brought by Gawea.
Lewis and Clark decide that now is the time to form a merry band so that they might escape the growing madness, saving themselves and perhaps, eventually, the city also. US readers will note the names of the two lead protagonists. The motley group venture into a changed and unpredictable environment, every bit as unknown as the land through which the original Lewis and Clark travelled through.
They come under attack from a variety of disturbing creatures as fractures form within the band. As they slowly struggle closer to the Promised Land, some of them begin to ask questions of Gawea who has raised suspicions as to her honesty and reasons for encouraging Lewis, in particular, to make the trek to the coast. It all makes for an intriguing read.
I really enjoyed this story. I felt slightly uncomfortable at times with the jingoism employed but it didn’t really detract too much from the overall tale. I was easily hooked by the new and damaged world created by human idiocy, and enthralled by the turbulent adventure that Lewis and Clark found themselves tossed into.
There are twists and turns, many unexpected, as well as the promise of any number of sequels. Percy has set the stage perfectly for his follow-up, so best to jump on board now, and steal a march on the crowd. I just hope that he decides to tone down his patriotism a tad, or else any potential international audience will be put off. If not, then I hope that someone else writes a similar tale set elsewhere in the world. I await part two of The Deadlands with heady anticipation.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Novel and pacey adventure that will hook and hold you.