Rating: 3 stars out of 5
One hundred years later, in the wasteland formerly known as America, a broken man who goes only by the name of Cavalo survives. Purposefully cutting himself off from what remains of civilization, Cavalo resides in the crumbling ruins of the Northern Idaho Correctional Institution. A mutt called Bad Dog and a robot on the verge of insanity comprise his only companions. Cavalo himself is deteriorating, his memories rising like ghosts and haunting the prison cells.
It’s not until he makes the dangerous choice of crossing into the irradiated Deadlands that Cavalo comes into contact with a mute psychopath, one who belongs to the murderous group of people known as the Dead Rabbits. Taking the man prisoner, Cavalo is forced not only to face the horrors of his past, but the ramifications of the choices made for his stark present. And it is in the prisoner that he will find a possible future where redemption is but a glimmer that darkly shines.
The world has died. This is the story of its remains.
Like some DSP stories, this is not actually a romance and there is also no sex. It’s very dark, I knew that going in, violence, death and cannibalism in a barren, brutal wasteland with no laws. But none of those things bothered me in the least. Yet this story was hard for me in some ways, so should say those bits up front.
The beginning didn’t draw me in immediately. If I hadn’t been reading it for review, I’m not sure if I would have continued on because I was just really confused by it. The POV starts out omniscient but moves to being from Cavalo’s third person POV that starts out feeling distant (calling him the man and seeming outside of him) before slipping in closer and more into his head. There are still times later in the book when it almost seemed to slip back towards omniscient. I was actually about 20% in before I started feeling involved with the story.
Another thing that was hard for me is that there are quite a large number of scenes that are sort of dream or flashback or hallucination sequences that move around in time and place. In addition to bringing in backstory, these work to show how messed up the MC’s mind is—an insanity of a sort like when so much has happened that one cannot hold onto their mind. But there were quite a lot of them, some lengthy and involved, and it tended to pull me from the story.
For me, this book read like a nightmare… one where dark, scary, awful things happen but they just don’t fully make sense and then I wake up and still can’t put it all together and am left unsettled, confused, and shaking my head. That was how I felt at the end of this story. Perhaps some small part of this has to do with the cliffhanger ending but also to be perfectly honest, must admit that sometimes I felt lost.
Those things being said, this book has some fascinating post-apocalyptic world-building going on! While I didn’t feel a strong connection with the main characters, I did find both Bad Dog and the robot SIRS interesting and compelling. In fact, I think my favorite chapter of the book was “the ballad of bad dog.” When I read that title, I was so hesitant to read on as I know ballads are often tragic. But it actually not only tells the story of how Bad Dog came to Cavelo, but contains the most tender scene of the whole story.
It was my first read from this author, so I had no idea what to expect and tend to think after having read some blurbs and reviews from other stories, that it’s not representative of his work in general but rather a branching out into new areas.
The cover by Paul Richmond just absolutely creeps me out (and not in a good way)… luckily I had not seen it prior to requesting the story or might have had second thoughts. I’m not sure how exactly it relates to the story other than giving an impression of its awful, bleak world.
Overall, cover and story alike leave me with the feeling like awaking from a disjointed and unsettling nightmare. A nightmare that I will be compelled to revisit when book two comes out.
ebook, 280 pages
Published April 19th 2016 by DSP Publications
Original TitleWithered + Sere
ISBN 1634765575 (ISBN13: 9781634765572)