Book Review: Ex-Isle by Peter Clines
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi Fantasy
Series: Book 5 of Ex-Heroes
Publisher: Broadway Books (February 2, 2016)
Length: 400 pages
This is probably my favorite book of the series so far! Ex-Isle, the fifth book in the Ex-Heroes series (which I like to describe to others as “Superheroes meets The Walking Dead”) brings things back on track. I’ve never felt more energized about these books than I do now.
The story takes us back to the Mount, a film studio in Hollywood that the survivors of zombocalypse has converted into a fortress to keep out the hordes of undead. The people of Los Angeles have fared better than most, thanks to a small team of super-powered individuals on their side. St. George, a hero somewhat analogous to Superman, has helped protect everyone by establishing a safe haven where humanity can still work, play, farm and forage.
But then disaster strikes, destroying much of the Mount’s sources of food, forcing the heroes to consider riskier solutions to make up for the loss. In the end, a team including Danielle, Cesar and their powered suit of armor known as Cerberus (yes, my first thought was Iron Man too) head out to the outskirts in an effort to find more ways to produce food.
Meanwhile, Zzzap returns from a scouting trip with some big news: he has found a man-made island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, constructed by cobbling together a bunch of boats (in his words, “It’s kind of like Waterworld. But, y’know, believable.”) Deciding that the Mount should offer whatever help they can provide, St. George accompanies Zzzap back to the island in a gesture of goodwill, bringing Corpse Girl along for the adventure. When the heroes arrive though, they find a less than friendly welcome; in fact, everyone on the island seems to think L.A. has been nuked along with the rest of the world, and no one believes that St. George is who he says he is. Worse, they all appear to be ruled by a paranoid Aquaman-type character named Maleko.
After reading Ex-Isle, I was excited and also relieved that the slump I experienced with the last book was only temporary. Ex-Purgatory was a strange book that took us briefly in a different direction, which didn’t work as well for me compared to the other novels in the series, so now I’m glad to see all my favorite zombie-fighting heroes in action again. There are two story threads running along here side-by-side, the one where Danielle and the others are in Eden helping out with the food situation, and then there’s the one with St. George, Zzzap and Corpse Girl in Lemuria, the island made of boats. Both are equally gripping and suspenseful, and I fell into the rollicking rhythm of the novel almost instantly.
What I loved most about this book is the unsettling sense of mystery that pervades both storylines. Up in Eden, the team of super soldiers who are supposed to be watching out for zombies are instead acting really strange, and people are getting suspicious. This story is made even better by Danielle, who is trying to figure out what’s going on, but her progress is agreatly hampered by her struggle with PTSD and her separation anxiety from the Cerberus armor. And speaking of Danielle, over the course of the series we’ve seen the books focus on the individual characters, exploring their personalities and backgrounds, but this is the first time I’ve truly felt that kind of character development take off. Don’t get me wrong, because I love this series; it’s humorous and entertaining, but admittedly, that tone has always made it hard to connect with the characters on a deeper level—especially when most of them can be seen as parodies of well-known Marvel and DC superheroes. However, Danielle in Ex-Isle became a genuinely interesting and sympathetic character, and in her I finally found the deeper connection I’ve been looking for in this series.
The storyline in Lemuria was also excellent fun. The suspense and mystery go into overdrive here, making you wonder every step of the way, “Just what is going on here?” The heroes have to deal with a new antagonist and all his dangerous and evilly underhanded tactics. Barry/Zzzap is hilarious as always, and Corpse Girl AKA Madelyn also gets to have a starring role, proving herself to be one of the more fascinating characters with bizarre “power”.
I also liked how this book was more structured. Peter Clines wrote in a note at the end that unlike the other volumes, he had to rush this one, and because of that, it was outlined to oblivion. It’s understandable why that didn’t work too well for him as a writer. Strangely though, it worked for me as a reader. I enjoyed how the story was more focused and streamlined, and the pacing was smoother because we had fewer flashbacks. Even though we didn’t get to see much of the other heroes—like Stealth or Captain Freedom—the characters that we did get to spend time with were better written and more developed.
Overall, this was a big winner for me. I feel like the series is finally hitting its stride, and that going forward, we’re going to be seeing even greater things. I’m so glad Clines is writing more of these books, and I can’t wait for the next one.