Peter Clines Ex-Heroes has quickly become one my favorite series in recent years. In fact, it is just about the only zombie-related series I’m currently reading or listening to. The Ex-Heroes series takes place in a world ravaged by a tide of undead (referred to in the series as ex-humans) where the last vestiges of humanity in the Los Angeles area are defended by a group of superheroes. Throughout the series Clines has done an excellent job of creating heroes who feel similar to more familiar comic book heroes while maintaining enough originality to let them stand on their own. Together with the people they defend the heroes of Peter Clines’ series have survived numerous ordeals from battles with former L. A. gangs, the obligitory hordes of zombies, to the remnants of s secret military project. Ex-Purgatory shakes things up a bit with a bit of a cold open. Readers are introduced to a young girl in the midst of a therapy session as she discusses with her doctor the fact that every night she dreams of a world full of zombies and heroes; a world that she insists is real. Immediately after readers are thrust into the life of George Bailey, who series regulars will immediately recognize as St. George/The Mighty Dragon, however this is a George whose life is fairly normal and who lives and works in a L. A. seemingly untouched by neither zombie or apocalypse. It is a clever play, clever enough to make even me wonder if what we had read before in the previous novels was reality or dream.
The premise Clines employs is one that could have easily become annoying but the strength of Clines’ series has always been in the characters he has created and Ex-Purgatory is no different. Despite existing in a world wildly different from the one we’ve come to know the characters that are reintroduced over the course of the novel still manage to provide insight and depth into the psyche of the heroes we have come know and love. Since over the course of the first three novels we never get to see the heroes in a “normal” life Ex-Purgatory gives us an excellent sampling of what these heroes were like in their daily lives before the apocalypse. Where previous novels used flashbacks to flesh out the back-story of the characters the device always felt a bit cumbersome to me as the action and story in the present always seemed far more interesting. By casting the heroes in something a mystery while allowing characters appear and act as they did before the zombie apocalypse we get an inside glimpse, at least o a certain extent, of who they were in the past. As more about the “new” world our heroes are living in becomes apparent we begin to see more how the weight of their lives and actions in the previous novels has come to affect them. Clines takes an interesting mystery and uses it to really up the ante on character development for many of the heroes.
As usual the audiobook version of Ex-Purgatory is absolutely phenomenal. Where previous books in the series have offered multiple narrators seriously enhancing the novels by providing distinct voices for different character perspectives. for Ex-Purgatory Jay Snyder goes it alone. With the bulk of the narrative belonging to St. George this manages to work out well. While I still missed Mark Boyett and Khristine Hvam, Snyder definitely manages to carry the ball here. Thankfully Snyder doesn’t try to imitate the female voices instead raising his pitch only slightly for female characters and letting the natural quirks the female character’s dialogue carry his performance. While I hope to see a return to multiple narrators in future volumes Snyder is skilled enough that he can carry the book on his own.
This series has gotten consistently better with each offering and Ex-Purgatory continues that trend. While the market for zombie fiction has become over-saturated Clines has crafted believable and fascinating characters in an interesting as world. By grounding those characters in a specific place, The Mount, Clines has manages to really create what feels like a living breathing post-apocalyptic society. The strong sense of place allows Clines to explore his characters in detail without sacrificing action and excitement. If you’re tired of your standard zombie-laden fiction I’d still recommend you give the Ex-Heroes series a shot. Clines has consistently managed to one-up himself and Ex-Purgatory only leaves me hungry for more adventures in this world.