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Ex-Isle: A Novel (Ex-Heroes) Paperback – February 2, 2016
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About the Author
PETER CLINES has published several pieces of short fiction and countless articles on the film and television industries, as well as the novels The Fold, Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communication, Ex-Purgatory, and 14. He lives and writes in southern California.
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For you Star Trek geeks out there, reading this book is kinda like watching most of the Next Gen movies. They weren't bad. They'd actually have been perfectly legitimate episodes. But they weren't great *movies*. Most of what happens is fairly predictable. In the end you're glad you watched, but you're thinking less "opening night" and more "RedBox" in terms of time and money investment.
In Ex-Heroes, you're constantly in awe of the amazing characters (and backstories) and their epic battle with PZ aka Legion (oh, and there's *zombies*! Cool!) Then comes Ex-Patriots with a bunch of new exciting characters along with a new nemesis, Agent Smith, whose power leaves you with that Sixth Sense feeling of awesome. That's followed up with Ex-Communication where our heroes (including a dead one) go toe-to-toe with Legion again, but with the additional character of Cairax Murrain that leaves the audience on the edge of its seat in anticipation. The final battle in this book alone would make it worthwhile for Hollywood to produce all three movies. Without doubt. Then, in Ex-Purgatory, Clines takes the whole story and turns it upside-down and inside-out. During most of the book you're left wondering what on earth is going on - almost to the point of wondering if the author has lost his way - and then your mind is blown by the final reveal. Absolutely brilliant!
How does Clines follow up on all that in Ex-Isle? With an entertaining narrative about some of our strongest heroes fighting against... a somewhat strong but otherwise not-very-intimidating bad guy. It's like someone took The Governor from The Walking Dead and made him about as threatening as the whip-wielding nemesis from Iron Man 2. Oh, and throw in some Waterworld stuff too, as Clines unashamedly did. There was witty dialog, a believable-for-that-world plot (though seriously, Stealth? You thought sending Corpse Girl along was a good idea??), clever restraints on our heroes' abilities and some fun (and disturbing) "THEN" throwbacks, but taken as a whole, when this book was over, I realized that I couldn't recommend this book with half the enthusiasm as the other four. I might still suggest people read it if they're craving more interactions with St. George, Zzzap, Corpse Girl and the rest, but I'd temper their expectations that this is just an episode, not a movie. Redbox rather than opening night.
Now let's be fair. Clines still hit a home run 4 out of 5 times with this series, and I'll still buy whatever comes next in this series or his 14/Fold world. But I'll be slower to pre-order next time. Make me a believer again, Peter!
I've enjoyed all of the books and I'm in good company as Nathan Fillon has given them his recommendation too but the last volume, Ex-Purgatory, showed there was a bit of wheel spinning going around. Now that the superheroes have successfully secured their homeland, it doesn't appear there's much else to do. I also felt the relationships among the characters were rather stalled as we saw Saint George and Stealth get together a couple of books ago but what they're doing is left ambiguous. Likewise, I was surprised by some of the relationships mentioned in this book but mostly handwaved. Still, I was interested in seeing what Peter Clines would come up with.
Ex-Isle follows Zzzap finding an artificial island created from a dozen cruise ships and tankers fused together. Eager to get involved with another group of survivors, Saint George, Zzzap, and Corpse Girl journey there to make contact. Unfortunately, the locals are not only suspicious of outsiders but have a half-insane superhero ruler. Meanwhile, Cerberus is coping with PTSD even as she struggles to rebuild her armor. The Mount's survivors are opening a new farm for themselves so they can keep ahead of their rising population and it seems very likely someone may want to take it over as their own private kingdom.
This is pretty much a popcorn adventure in the grand scheme of things, making no big significant changes to the status quo and just introducing some more minor characters. I confess, I find this a little disappointing as I was hoping the introduction of Nautilus, basically the setting's Aquaman, would have resulted in another member of the team joining them. Unfortunately, Nautilus appears to be just another petty dictator and a foe for our heroes to face rather than a potential rival or ally.
I liked the depiction of the Islanders and their society as well as how everything functioned. Peter Clines has rectified some of the earlier accusations against him by expanding the diversity of the cast considerably. We also get an Arab superhuman named Marduk referenced who I hope will make an appearance in future books. I don't know if the island will continue to be a location in the series or if it'll be a one-off location.
The big stand-out of the book is Madelyne a.k.a Corpse Girl who gets a chance to shine in the book by showing off her regenerative powers as well as the tragedies of her condition. For those who don't remember, Corpse Girl can only remember the previous day clearly and facts beyond that. It's a bit like a less severe version of Memento. Watching her cope with a life and death situation without the help of the other heroes is very entertaining.
I also liked the handling of Cerberus. We've seen some great character development from her and there's some hints about her at the end which I really want to see followed up on. Cerberus is suffering from understandable trauma at having nearly been killed multiple times by Exes and confronting this issue without therapists is a tough one. I also liked the subversion of the "evil military" which is a prevalent trope in zombie fiction.
One area I'm going to complain about is the handling of Saint George and Stealth. After they hooked up in Ex-Communication, I was expecting some more information in how things are working out between them. Sadly, there's no hint as to what's going on there and it would have been nice to continue analyzing the differences between them. After all, it is a romance between the equivalents of Superman and Batman.
Ex-Isle drops some hints for upcoming books about threats from other survivors as well as potential non-zombie related threats. We also had it confirmed there are also groups of survivors out there other than the Mount and Island. I look forward to meetings between them and how the non-insane, non-dictatorial communities interact. Unfortunately, we don't get enough of that to really make things shine.
In conclusion, this is a decent entry into the series but not a "can't miss" episode in their adventures. The character development for some overlooked members of the team is appreciated as is the introduction of some new villains. Sadly, there's not enough attention paid to the series mainstays of Stealth and Saint George. I still recommend the Ex-Heroes series to anyone who loves both superheroes and zombie fiction as they're two great tastes which go great together.
The Dead Girl doesn't remember much of what's happened the day before, and has to refer to a journal she writes every night before she goes to "sleep". When she doesn't have her journal, guess what happens? She doesn't remember. So, she goes through the mental gymnastics of discovery and rediscovery again and again, and minor nuances that she manages to recall eventually stick. There, I just saved you a few pages.
In Ex-Purgatory, Clines did this for what felt like entire chapters. It fills a book, yes, but we're not reading a screenplay. In this book, it's only a few pages, so not as bad. The story has a few weak (read unbelievable and slightly moronic, even in a Clines book) points, and the characters have become less dimensional, but overall, the book is entertaining. Mr. Clines may be pressured into furthering the story, and if that happens, I hope he goes back to the formula and writing technique he used in the first two books of the series.