A postapocalyptic America mired in political intrigues serves as the backdrop for this visionary thriller from Percy (Red Moon). Years after a super-flu and nuclear Armageddon have decimated civilization, the remnants of U.S. citizenry cower inside the Sanctuary, a foundering stronghold on the outskirts of St. Louis, the tyrannical leaders of which rule by fearmongering and intimidation. When a visiting emissary from Oregon proves that life flourishes elsewhere, bookish Lewis Meriwether and rugged Wilhemina Clark flee with an entourage of fugitives. They embark on a northwestern trek through the wilderness known as the Dead Lands, mirroring the historical exploration of America’s Louisiana Purchase. Percy throws a number of frightening obstacles in his adventurers’ way, including giant spiders, enormous predatory bats, and human slavers, but the greatest challenges his characters face are their own doubts about the future and their place in the society they are fleeing to. With its fluid integration of reflections on American values and freedoms into a near-future scenario whose dramas resonate with the contemporary zeitgeist, this novel is a reminder that the best speculative fiction speaks to the concerns and issues of its time. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown. (Apr.)
"Benjamin Percy's THE DEAD LANDS is a case of wonderful writing and compulsive reading. You will not come across a finer work of sustained imagination this year. Good God, what a tale. Don't miss it."Stephen King
"The Dead Lands is a gripping and inventive adventure about the resilience of the human species. Benjamin Percy may conjure a future that's brutal and dark, but it's not without bravery, compassion, and love. He is a truly gifted storyteller." Edan Lepucki, author of California
"THE DEAD LANDS is an ingenious thriller, relentlessly driven by Benjamin Percy's powerful writing."Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins
"THE DEAD LANDS is a bomb-blast of a novel, casting its tremors in every direction. Benjamin Percy's range grows broader with every book he writes. Here he takes a journey across a cataclysmic future American West, sending his band of seekers, scholars, assassins, and explorers through a landscape as dangerous and surreal as it must have seemed to the original Lewis and Clark. Their adventure, like the novel itself, travels far past the frontier, into the deepest and most thrilling of wildernesses."Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead
"This post-apocalyptic reimagining of the Lewis and Clark passage is a thrill ride through a nightmare America. THE DEAD LANDS is gorgeous and haunting and full of heart, like some wonderful offspring of The Hobbit, The Road,and Stephen King's Dark Tower series."James Frey, author of Bright Shiny Morning and Endgame
A century and a half after a deadly pandemic and nuclear exchange, what remains of St. Louis has become Sanctuary, a walled city surrounded by the desert known as the Dead Lands. The government is growing more oppressive as conditions worsen, and then a strange, black-eyed young woman rides out of the west claiming there is a green land where the rain falls and everything grows. The rulers of Sanctuary can't afford to allow hope into the metropolis, but a small group, including museum curator Lewis Meriwether and city guard Mina Clark, break out and head up the Missouri River to find this land of Oregon. Pursued by hunters from the city and surrounded by deadly dangers, both human and not, this small band of explorers must keep heading west until they discover just what is waiting for them on the shores of the Pacific. VERDICT Percy's sophomore outing (after the acclaimed Red Moon) is not only a compelling postapocalyptic adventure populated by fascinating characters but a clever riff on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Fans of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker, and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven will embrace this literary vision of humanity's first steps back up the ladder of civilization after near-extinction disasters. [See Prepub Alert, 10/13/14.]—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
The world has been devastated by virulent flu and panic-induced nuclear war. In the former city of St. Louis, two visionaries prepare to leave the safety of their walled city, Sanctuary, and travel to Oregon with the mysterious guide Gawea. Their names are Lewis and Clark. While the characters and details of Percy's (Red Moon, 2013, etc.) novel are hardly original on the surface—corrupt new government that controls the people through fear; great unknown beyond the walls where monsters and lawless men roam; climate destroyed by human negligence—there exists, from the very first pages, a tension that engages interest. Much of this is due to Percy's clear, descriptive prose but also to the smaller elements of surprise that he builds into the narrative. The supernatural side of Lewis' character and the vulnerable love that Clark feels for her (yes, her) brother balance out the more expected episodes of mutant monsters and human cruelty. Cutting back and forth from the small band of travelers to the terrors and uprising in Sanctuary, Percy uses this to build suspense but also to develop relationships among the characters. There are moments during the journey that recall great fantasy classics like The Lord of the Rings, and deepened by the historical Lewis and Clark connection, this part is ultimately the more interesting, but there is a certain satisfaction that comes from the inevitable fall of the corrupt Sanctuary as well. The problem with post-apocalyptic novels, however, is that they are devilishly hard to end—and this one is no exception. The final chapter feels more like a punch line than a revelation. It's hard to imagine much positive change in this ravaged world, so how can the characters hold out hope? In a literary world peppered with post-apocalyptic novels, Percy's stands out.