BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Things get more complicated for L.A.’s ex-heroes when a unit of super soldiers show up.
PROS: Cool heroes; fair representation of the military; better villains; better plotting; better characterization; even better pop-culture references.
CONS: Weak finale with lack of resolution – building up for Ex-Communication; weaker action.
BOTTOM LINE: A good sequel that addresses some problems I had with Ex-Heroes while suffering from a few of its own. Yet still further proof that Clines’s brain should be mined for Hollywood gold.
So it’s been almost a month and I haven’t received a commission for recommending that Ex-Heroes be turned into a summer blockbuster. I refuse to believe that Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Zack Snyder, and Michael Bay don’t follow my reviews religiously. C’mon guys, call me. Anyway, while I wait for their people to get in touch with my people we might as well talk Ex-Patriots. Firstly I have to give major props to Jonathan Bartlett for another fantastic cover illustration. Next I have to give props to Clines for incorporating an element to the series that is prevalent in both superhero stories and zombie stories – the military. The U.S. Armed Forces often get a bad rap in zombie movies and literature, and the same can be said for a lot of comics. Clines takes a different route, depicting the soldiers of Project Krypton as real people rather than jack-booted thugs. It’s an approach I appreciate and I bet a lot of service men and women do too.
Ex-Patriots opens up with a 4th of July celebration at the Mount. The heroes are grieving the loss of one of their own and the Seventeens are beginning to integrate with the other civilians. Unexpectedly St. George and company encounter an unmanned aerial drone during a routine salvage run. Soon, remnants of a U.S. military unit arrive on scene, hoping to reconnect with fellow survivors of the Zombocalypse. The heroes accompany the soldiers back to their base but something seems…wrong. As the story progresses it becomes clear that not all is as it seems at Krypton and soon the heroes find themselves facing off against foes new and old.
The heroes are as awesome as ever, if not more so. This time around St. George’s personality didn’t grate on me quite so badly. Danielle, the pilot of Cerberus, is plagued by some form of post traumatic stress and reverse-claustrophobia (not to mention grief). Stealth is still an enigma, though it does appear that St. George’s cool and collected attitude is rubbing off on her. Zzzap is the real show stopper this time around – he’s just so dang funny. Ex-Patriots being my third Peter Clines novel it has become apparent that any novel written by this man will be loaded with pop culture references, and the best of these are channeled through Zzzap. There are the obvious Superman nods, as well as a great Ghost Busters reference and a truly spectacular Matrix joke. Clines is an author that is clearly aware of his influences in media and gives tribute to such.
The bland and replaceable regular human residents of the Mount that I was so annoyed by last time around are substituted with the soldiers of Project Krypton. Clines gives the super soldier program an interesting explanation much as he did for the ex-virus in the first book. This proved to be a major improvement, as the story and personality of these characters is delivered via the chapters set in the past, told from the first person perspective. In Ex-Heroes I considered these “Then” sections to be one of the novels strong points, fleshing out some really cool heroes. This time around it truly helps to round out the cast, as readers should already know about the heroes and now get to learn about the soldiers. Captain Freedom is an obvious favorite, a dedicated soldier and bulked out super human that carries around a cut-down automatic shotgun named Lady Liberty as a sidearm and is capable of trading blows with St. George.
And as far as the character goes I’d be remiss not to mention how much better the villains are this go around. I can’t delve into too much detail other than to say that there’s a neat bit of tying up loose ends. Of course, one of my main problems with Ex-Patriots is that Clines introduces a whole new set of loose ends. The first book could basically be read as a stand alone novel. The unresolved threads didn’t necessarily need answers. The second book leaves the ending pretty wide open. Villains escape or aren’t directly challenged and so despite some character development and the introduction of new elements, this book is a connector between Ex-Heroes and Ex-Communication. The finale is weak, especially in comparison to the thrilling, knock-down-drag-out siege of the debut. As a result the overall action of Ex-Patriots feels weaker. A degree of this can be attributed to the near invulnerability of St. George and Zzzap, lessening the stakes of any fight they participate in. It is still a thrill to read about Stealth fighting but the zomb — errr, ex-humans don’t seem pose much of a threat to anyone but the normals (who I find it impossible to care about anyway). I do have to give Clines a bit of a break though, as he did kill off one of the main characters in the very first book, but still, I’d like to see him up the ante with the next novel.
The plotting of Ex-Patriots is also an improvement over its predecessor. Though the action flags throughout the novel, the exploration of Krypton and the Unbreakables is fascinating. The “Now” and “Then” chapters offer outsider and insider perspectives as the heroes confront suspicions of cliche evil armed forces in the aftermath of the apocalypse. There’s a nagging sense of unease throughout the novel, readers will notice that things aren’t quite what they seem but it is unlikely they’ll put two and two together until the big reveal. It’s a sly moment that makes up for heroes and soldiers talking when they should be acting and a repetitive series of captures.
Ex-Patriots isn’t perfect but it is proof of Clines’s improving talent. Having read his latest novel, 14, I can honestly say that Clines is steadily progressing with each release. This bodes well for the upcoming release of Ex-Communication. Clines will keep getting better and I’ll keep reading him – and waiting for Spielberg to get in touch.