Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Just when you think you're sick and tired of zombie books, someone does something different with them. In the case of Ex-Heroes, it's a blend of superheroes and zombies that somehow keeps either concept from feeling entirely absurd.
Ex-Heroes takes place a year after the zombie apocalypse. There's a pocket of survivors in a movie studio lot, protected by the few superheroes that survived. They have a secure perimeter, housing, gardens, and regular scavenging runs. They even have electricity, provided by Zzzap, who's basically a small sentient sun.
Roughly a third of the story is told through flashbacks to before and during the zombie apocalypse. We learn that superheroes are a new phenomenon, having appeared in the last couple of years following a mysterious meteor shower. The story is told through several points of view, but goes back most often to that of St. George, who's roughly equivalent to Superman in terms of morality, and the fact that he's the strongest of them.
The zombies aren't the main conflict, though, as in all good zombie fiction. There's a gang that was a big deal before the apocalypse, and it turns out they're still around, growing by the day, and they have a secret weapon. They want our heroes' weapons and for them to turn over one of their own, and they're willing to wage war to get it.
The story is told in a way that evokes comic books very strongly. The scene is often set, like the one-panel first page of an issue, then the characters move about the space in a very visual way. Unfortunately, that sometimes made it hard to keep track of characters and action. The story often jumped from one end of the action to the other without warning, just like in a comic book. It relied on us to have a good image of each of the characters in play. And, toward the beginning of the book, that was tricky. It took about five chapters before I felt I had a handle on most of the characters, and I never really wrapped my mind around Miss B.
I had a hard time telling if the female characterizations were meant to be subverting comic book tropes, or if they were accepting them unironically. Female characters were described in terms of their looks, even when the story was being told from a female perspective. Male characters' looks were sketched in terms of how strong they were or what their costumes were. And the entire character of Stealth and her dynamic with St. George was problematic, to say the least.
It was an enjoyable read, though, and the story builds on itself nicely. The flashbacks are all necessary to the story, and give the reader important information they need for the present. I liked the character development, and I'm interested to read more about superheroes in a post-apocalyptic landscape infested with zombies.
I listened to this book on audio. It had a male and female narrator. The woman read all the female parts, including dialogue, while the man read all the male parts. It was a good way to get around the problem of how silly one gender can sound reading off dialogue of the other, and it helped me tell who was speaking at any given moment. I don't think it would work for all books, but I liked it, once I adjusted.
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