In the future, one hundred fifty years after war and disease and famine have nearly destroyed the world, St. Louis, now called the Sanctuary, is a shielded community that has managed to survive through a militant defense and draconian leadership. Life there is brutal and harsh, unless you are the Mayor or one of his cronies. For all they know they may be the last city left in the world, until one day a rider shows up, claiming to be from the West, with tales of bountiful water and food, but also the threat of a dangerous army, bent on conquest. Her name is Gawea. The Mayor, who is almost a caricature of the evil bureaucrat, wants to execute her. A guard, Clark, and the town historian/curator, Lewis, decide to sneak out of the city and head West. They are followed by a small yet plucky group of ragtag explorers, and the rest of the novel follows the explorers on their trek, and some of their friends left in the city who decide to rebel and overthrow their dictatorial leaders.
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.