by Peter Clines
Review by Drew Bittner
Broadway Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0804136610
Date: 14 January 2014 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
George Bailey has nightmares. In them, he’s flying over a Los Angeles devastated by a zombie apocalypse. He’s got amazing abilities but is only barely holding together an enclave of survivors, alongside a handful of other superhumans.
Then he wakes up and he’s part of a college grounds crew, dealing with new student arrivals and maintenance problems.
One of these is not real. Thing is, George doesn’t know which one it is that’s the dream.In Ex-Purgatory, Peter Clines unleashes the fourth installment of his Ex-Heroes saga. George (aka St. George, formerly the Mighty Dragon) is one of the leaders of the Mount—a former Hollywood studio turned into a refuge and a community. With friends like Stealth, Zzzap, Capt. Freedom, and more, he protects this fragile society from millions of zombies (and a few living enemies) outside their walls.
But now George wakes to a reality where none of that ever happened. He isn’t a superhero, and if he seems to see shambling corpses here and there—well, his nightmares have been pretty vivid and he isn’t getting much sleep. Except that a strange girl in a wheelchair, who seems to stop breathing when she falls asleep, is certain that everything is wrong…and that George needs to wake up for real.
Prodded by this girl, Madelyn, George begins to look for the other “heroes” she insists are his comrades in arms. He seeks out Freedom, finding him serving in a recruiting office after a shattering debacle overseas, and contacts a physicist at a government laboratory who seems to know him, although they've never met.
Then George has an accident, a sheet of broken glass slicing through his uniform, yet he seems unscathed. Impossible, he thinks--he should have been cut to ribbons. It’s evident rather quickly that things are not adding up…
Unless George can solve this mystery, and determine which of these two worlds is the real one, the lives of everyone he knows might be forfeit. What is a handyman to do?
Clines does the near-impossible in this volume, setting up the possibility that everything we’ve read to date has been nothing more than one man’s nightmare. He manages this skillfully, building in reasonable doubts as he goes, so that the reader is kept suspended between two worlds: the world of the living and the world of the undead.
George’s mundane life is explored in greater depth here, especially since he’s has no superheroic identity in this world. He’s an ordinary guy working maintenance, who reads widely and thinks about larger things than replacing lightbulbs and cleaning up fraternity hijinks. He’s very much an innocent here, whereas previously he was a hero hardened by trauma and catastrophe.
The other heroes are likewise eyes-wide-open, including supermodel Karen (aka Stealth), whose legendary preparedness may have failed, and physicist Barry (aka Zzzap), whose dreams weirdly parallel George's.
What is the truth here? Has this zombie horror all been a bad dream? Is Madelyn right, or is she crazy, driven mad by an inexplicable medical condition? Or (worst of all) has some terrible enemy found a weakness in their defense and is using it against them? Well… read and find out, my friends.