Permuted Press , 2011, 310 pages
It’s been two years since the world ended. Two years since the dead rose and the plague of ex-humanity decimated mankind. For most of that time, the superhero called St. George, formerly known to the world as the Mighty Dragon, has protected the people of Los Angeles at their film-studio-turned-fortress, The Mount. Together with his fellow heroes - Cerberus, Zzzap, and Stealth - he’s tried to give the survivors hope and something like a real life. But the swollen population of The Mount is becoming harder and harder to sustain, and the heroes are feeling the pressure.
Hope arrives in the form of a United States Army battalion, based in a complex a few hundred miles away in Arizona. This is not just any base, however. The men and women of Project Krypton are super-soldiers, designed and created before the outbreak to be better, stronger, and faster than normal humans. They want the heroes and all the people of The Mount to rejoin America and have normal lives again.
But can the military be trusted? And is there even a country left to rejoin? There is a secret at the heart of Project Krypton, and those behind it have an awesome power that will help them keep that secret hidden. The power of Freedom.
Ex-Patriots is the sequel to Ex-Heroes; Peter Clines obviously plans to make a series of this, and I just may be along for the ride, because while it's unquestionably full of dumb, it's still fun, cheesy, popcorn entertainment, and the second book is better than the first.
In Ex-Heroes, we were introduced to a post-zombie-apocalypse world where superheroes had just started making their presence known when the zombie apocalypse happened. (And as it turns out, the two phenomena were not unrelated.) Our heroes were defending the last bastion of humanity in Los Angeles, an enclave of survivors in Hollywood which faced two primary threats: the zombies, or "exes," and a street gang that lived outside "The Mount." Book one ended with the Big Bad being taken down, a few obligatory sacrifices on the heroes' side, and a revelation about the origins of the zombie apocalypse.
In book two, a predator drone flies over the Mount. There's some faffing about as Zzzap tracks down where it's being piloted from and figures out there's a U.S. Army unit some miles away, while meanwhile the designated Idiot Politician is trying to build a following inside the Mount with the usual "These so-called heroes (who are the only reason we aren't all zombie chow) are actually fascists who are HIDING THE TRUTH from us!" demagoguery. This is a tired, stupid subplot and fortunately it's pretty much forgotten once the main plot gets underway.
So, there is a remnant Army base in Arizona that has somehow survived the zombocalypse, and it turns out they are the successful subjects of a super-soldier program. Led by - wait for it - Captain Freedom (yes, his last name is really Freedom) - they send a helicopter to meet the superheroes in L.A. This is a superhero novel that follows every single superhero trope (seriously, I think Clines had a checklist printed off from TVTropes to make sure he hit every one - some of them he lampshaded so deliberately you know he was winking at the audience), so there is the obligatory misunderstanding that leads to Captain Freedom and the Mighty Dragon slugging it out, since the First Law of Superhero Team-Ups is that when two superhero teams meet for the first time, something must cause them to fight a pointless battle before realizing that this is stupid.
Once that trope has been checked off the list, Zzzap, the Mighty Dragon, Cerberus, and
As with the previous book, Ex-Patriots periodically interrupts the current storyline with flashback chapters describing the super-soldiers' origins. Most of them are your basic mix of Army grunts who for various reasons were selected for the super-soldier program. Some of them are patriotic, most are about as smart as a box of rocks, but there are a few clues dropped that will become meaningful later. In general, Clines does a better job of building up his story in this second book: there were a lot of really stupid plot devices and characters acting in completely incredible ways that had me rolling my eyes and prepared to rip this book apart for being even dumber than the first... and then when the Big Reveals happened - several Big Reveals - suddenly most of it made sense and wasn't so stupid after all. The climax is still very much traditional superhero genre fare, but not as predictable as the first book.
The Ex-Heroes series isn't anything more than it pretends to be: zombies + superheroes. Peter Clines is still a journeyman writer who uses distinctive character voice to cover up weaknesses in characterization, and his plots are no more complex than what you'd find in a single arc of a comic book series. But, it's fun, and the second book is an improvement over the first, so I'm now a fan who will cheerfully recommend it as fairly brainless entertainment.
Verdict: Superheroes plus zombies. If that concept alone is enough to interest you, then read these books, they're fun, light fare. They aren't the best superhero novels I've ever read, but they're not the worst, and the author does show enough signs of improvement to make me hope that in book three I might actually start caring about the characters instead of just wanting to read dumbfun superhero/zombie action.
Also by Peter Clines: My review of Ex-Heroes.
My complete list of book reviews.