Broadway Books, 2013, 336 pages
The fourth novel in Peter Clines' best-selling Ex series.
When he's awake, George Bailey is just an ordinary man. Five days a week he coaxes his old Hyundai to life, curses the Los Angeles traffic, and clocks in at his job as a handyman at the local college. But when he sleeps, George dreams of something more. George dreams of flying. He dreams of fighting monsters. He dreams of a man made of pure lightning, an armored robot, a giant in an army uniform, a beautiful woman who moves like a ninja.
Then one day as he's walking from one fix-it job to the next, a pale girl in a wheelchair tells George of another world, one in which civilization fell to a plague that animates the dead-and in which George is no longer a glorified janitor, but one of humanity's last heroes. Her tale sounds like madness, of course. But as George's dreams and his waking life begin bleeding together, he starts to wonder - which is the real world, and which is just fantasy?
Peter Clines's Ex novels are taking after their comic book inspiration in more ways than one, as the series seems to have no end in sight. The author evidently is content to keep the zombie apocalypse/superhero mashup going as long as people will keep reading them, and so far they remain entertaining enough to keep me on board, though I can see it getting played out if the situation in Los Angeles remains static.
To summarize for those who have not read the earlier books: there was a zombie apocalypse. In the aftermath, a band of superheroes have been protecting an enclave of survivors in what was once Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, now a walled compound surrounded by thousands of still-shambling undead.
There isn't much more to the premise than that. It's a graphic novel series, minus the illustrations.
St. George, formerly the Mighty Dragon, is the Superman of the series. Stealth is his Batman-like girlfriend. Cerberus is Iron (Woman), Zap is Green Lantern/Flash, Captain Freedom is (guess), and Corpse Girl and the Driver are the other two "supers" who appear in this volume.
Ex-Purgatory does start out differently, with George no longer a superhero, but living life as an ordinary janitor in a pre-apocalypse Los Angeles. I thought at first either this was a prequel or an alternate timeline story. Instead, as George keeps having dreams of being super-strong and invulnerable, and seeing hallucinations of the people around him turning into the walking dead, we figure out what's actually going on. Although George is trapped in some "alternate" reality, the details of exactly what's really happening take a bit longer to emerge, even once Stealth and the others get involved.
I liked the story well enough, but Clines's writing tics are becoming repetitive. Stealth has the body of a supermodel, the skills of Batman, and the vocabulary of Commander Data. Zap is the geek who will drop all the requisite Firefly/Star Wars/Matrix references and in-jokes. Captain Freedom is Captain America with no sense of humor or irony. Etc. And you can only write about superheroes smashing up zombies so many times before the battles begin to run together.
The resolution was suitably climactic, and the epilogue a typical superheroic cop-out. (I'm sorry, I'd vote for just killing the super-evil super-powerful bad guy who you know is eventually going to get free and cause trouble again.) The political tensions that began to develop in the last book haven't really gone anywhere, and this book was basically a single adventure that was an interesting twist, but leaves the status quo at the end of the book pretty much the same as at the start.
So, I'm on board for the next one, but I'd like to see Clines actually take the story somewhere, rather than making every book simply the latest adventures of zombie-fighting superheroes in Los Angeles.
Verdict: You'll know if you'll like these books by whether the idea of superheroes and zombies sounds entertaining or stupid to you. Ex-Purgatory, the fourth book in the series, is as good as the third book and better than the first two. 7/10.
Also by Peter Clines: My reviews of Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communication, and 14.
My complete list of book reviews.