I won’t lie, I’m a little bit done with the whole zombie genre. The explosion of zombie related books, movies, and games over the last several years has worn me out. Every once and awhile something will draw me back to the zombie infested world. It has actually been awhile since I’ve read a zombie book; in fact I think I made a slight attempt to read Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. Aa result Peter Clines’ Ex–Heroes has likely crossed my path a couple of times without my taking any real notice. However, I decided to give the audiobook version of Ex-Heroes a shot and I’m pretty glad I did; this is an exciting mash up of superheroes and zombies with great characters and some awesome action.
Ex-Heroes and its sequel Ex-Patriots take place in a world where zombies, typically referred to in the series as ex-humans or simply exes, have essentially one. However, the world had previously seen the emergence of real superheroes from the Batman/Ozymandias mash-up Stealth to the living supernova known as Zzap the heroes run the gamut of the extraordinary and the superpowered. A group of these heroes, under the guidance of the paranoid and forward thinking Stealth, made a valiant effort to save the Los Angeles area. Having failed to slowing the emergence of ex-humans the group of heroes have gathered what survivors they could in a Hollywood studio and have done their best to survive. In addition to the threat of the ex-humans the heroes must also face the threat of a rival survivor group comprised mostly of an L.A. street gang.
Both Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots feature a narrative structure that alternates between the present and the past. In Ex-Heroes this format serves often to illustrate the lives of the heroes before the ex-humans (or during the early days of the outbreak) and how they came together in L. A. and wound up at the Mount (their current Hollywood Studio home). Ex-Heroes dovetails nicely into Ex-Patriots and has a similar narrative structure though the “before” sections primarily detail the super-soldier program that features prominently in that novel. Clines meshes elements from the first novel with an adept hand and the connections between the two novels (beyond the characters) are subtle at first before growing obvious in the final third of Ex-Patriots.
Brilliance Audio did a top notch job with production. Male dialog and primary narration is handled by Jay Snyder while female dialog and female points of view are handled by Khristine Hvam. This is a wonderful technique that makes the audio version of an already exciting novel an even more immersive and entertaining experience. Both Snyder and Hvam are extraordinarily talented individuals who have a dynamic ranges that make the diverse cast of character easy to distinguish from one another.
While many of the heroes in these novels follow templates that may be familiar to readers (there is sense of bias towards DC Comics in this regard) Clines manages to infuse the personalities of each hero with a personality that makes each stand on their own. For powered heroes Clines occasionally delves into how their power works and often manages to do so without the awkwardness of a “first issue” feel. Over the course of both Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots Clines introduces aspects to heroes personalities and powers that go unexplained over time (for example the Might Dragon/St. George’s abilities grow over time, but the how and why of that is never explicitly explained) and certain odd personality quirks exhibited by certain characters (particularly over the course of Ex-Patriots) remain an intriguing (if frustrating) mystery that I hope to see explained in July’s Ex-Communication. Peter Clines’ Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots are not your average zombie novels. They take a fascinating premise, add interesting characters, and introduce a believable world to create a package that is some damn fine entertainment. If you’re looking for something new to read and like zombie fiction, or liked zombie fiction, I can’t recommend the Ex-Heroes series enough.