Ex-Heroes: Superheroes vs Zombies by Peter Clines

Rating 7.5/10
Full of interesting characters in a fascinating world.

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines is the first book in a series about a group of superheroes trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. As far as genre mashups go, this is certainly one of the better ones I've read, and I'll look forward to continuing with the series.

The story follows St. George the Mighty Dragon, a man who has super strength, inpenetrable skin, can breathe fire, and is able to glide through the air. He is the talisman for a community of humans and super-heroes who have built a shelter out of the abandoned Paramount Studios (which they have called The Mount). Together with Stealth (the self-appointed leader and super spy), Gorgon (siphons people's energy through his eyes), Cerberus (genius intellect wrapped up inside a battle-mech), Zzzap (can become pure energy), Regenerator (can heal almost any injury), and a small militia, St. George tries his best to defend The Mount not only from the mindless zombies that now infest the globe, but also other survivors who they compete with for food, water, ammunition and other resources. Life was starting to stabilise for the residents of The Mount until the zombies started regaining thier awareness - a horde of undead who know what they're doing and who have The Mount in their sights.

Ex-Heroes is a story told in two parts, the ongoing current story told from the third-person perspective (titled Now), and a series of flashbacks for each character told from the first-person perspective (titled Then). The Now chapters are very much a series of action driven sequences capturing the conflict between The Mount, the zombies, and a rival human gang know as the Seventeens, while the Then chapters provide us with enough exposition to help us figure out what happened to the world, and enough characterisations to help us connect with the characters. One of the things I really enjoyed about the Then chapters was exploring the backstories of a couple of the characters who had been killed while defending The Mount prior to the Now timeline - we get to see glimpses of them in their zombie form during the Now sequences, but mostly we get to see how the weight of their deaths hangs on each of the living characters. Figuring out what happened to the world is the main driver in Ex-Heroes, and I think it takes some of the anticipation away from the events driving the Now timeline. The Now timeline is straightforward, the main villain is cool but not particularly compelling or effective, and the final climactic scene fell a little flat for me. I guess this is the risk you take with this type of story telling, that one storyline ends up being far more compelling than the other and you spend the whole book wanting more of one storyline and less of the other.

The characters themselves are wide and diverse, with many strengths and weaknesses that seem to compliment the strengths and weaknesses of their abilities. The outer shell is bolstered by boastful confidence, but on the inside these characters are plagued by their own insecurities. Cline has done a great job at making the super-heroes feel like real people, but at the cost of the "normal" people who get some characterisation but come across more like interchangeable meat shields. The characters and their motivations are what pulled me through this story at a great clip - I want to read more about them, I want to get to know them a little better, I want to see what's behind Stealth's mask.

Ex-Heroes is a story that provides a solid foundation for future entries (Book 5 is coming this year). It handles the mashup between superheroes and zombies quite effectively, it is full of interesting characters, and it takes place in a world I find fascinating. While I can't help feel that the best medium to tell this story would be a graphic novel, the visualisation provided by Clines was certainly good enough for me to build a vivid picture for each scene. I look forward to seeing what Clines has done with the rest of the series.

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