The Dead Lands
Review by: Mark Palm
If you have been reading as long as I have, you will have come across more than a few post-apocalyptic novels. I’m not exactly sure what the attraction is, but I think it might be the contradictory pleasure of destroying one world and re-creating another. Whatever the case, a writer needs to find a fresh new take if they want their book stand out. The Dead Lands, by Benjamin Percy has some new angles, but it didn’t blow me away.
The Dead Lands is essentially based on the western adventures of the Corps of Discovery; two of its main characters even share almost identical names; Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, which is kind of conceptually audacious, but aside from that it doesn’t mean too much.
Mr. Percy’s prose is startling, but at times stilted. He knows how to plot, and keeps the various story-lines and characters rolling along. The action scenes were well-handled, and there was a lot of suspense. The main problem I had was with the characters. There are a variety of types, but I found most of them boring. With the exception of Mina, I was pretty much indifferent to their fates. While I kept reading to find out what would happen next, I really didn’t worry about the fate of most of the characters, which damped down the tension a bit. It wasn’t a question of them being likable or unlikeable, but just flat.
My other complaint was that near the end the action felt very compressed compared to the pace of the rest of the novel. It felt like Mr. Percy didn’t want to past a certain length, so he had to cram a lot in at the end. The world was a bit wonky as well, with giant vampire bats and charters developing “super” powers, which took away from what was otherwise a gritty and believable world. What frustrated me was that this book was so close to being a real knock-out, but fell just a little short. The Dead Lands is a solid novel, but I’m really looking forward to see what Mr. Percy does next.