Review: The Dead Lands

The-Deadlands UKBy Benjamin Percy

Hodder, out April 9

St Louis is the home of what remains of civilisation – but when a rider arrives, talking of others on the Pacific coast, a small party must find the truth…

Wisely not being promoted on the British side of the Atlantic for its retelling of the Lewis and Clark expedition – this being something that only those with a really keen interest in American history will have the faintest idea about, and others will think is probably a mispronunciation of the New Adventures of Superman series from the 1990s – Benjamin Percy’s new novel is an epic piece of world-building. It extrapolates from the past of the United States and creates a dystopian future, where B-movie horrors really do exist in a post-nuclear environment, and nature itself becomes the foe.

The horrors aren’t confined to nature run wild though: the world within the fortified walls of St Louis is truly horrific, with arbitrary justice dispensed in the name of preserving something that has actually become unrecognisable, and Percy showing us mankind at its most base and venal. There are some who haven’t succumbed, and Percy paints his characters in varying shades of grey as we follow them during the trek across country, and they learn about themselves and each other – as well as those who stay behind in the Sanctuary.

In lesser hands, this sort of tale can – and indeed often does – become unfocussed, but Percy moves all the various threads along at a tautening pace, as various revelations make us reassess what we’ve learned to date. There are shocks and twists right to the end of the tale – and plenty of scope for a follow-up.

Verdict: A well-crafted and engrossing tale. 9/10

Paul Simpson




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