Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: Deadlands

Title: Deadlands
Author: Lily Herne
Pages: 293
ISBN: 9780143527695
Source: Won in a competition hosted by the publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Horror

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When seventeen-year-old Lele de La Fortuin and her brother are forced to move to the city enclave to live with their estranged father and bitchy, war-hero stepmother, she has no idea her world is about to implode. Stuck in a school run by the Resurrectionists - a fanatical sect who worship the sinister, all-powerful Guardians - Lele dreams of escape. But she's trapped. No one can survive in the Deadlands, the shattered remains of Cape Town's suburbs, without being turned into one of the living dead.

No one, that is, except for a renegade group known as the Mall Rats. But who are they? And are they the answer to Lele's prayers, or is she about to find herself in more trouble than even she can imagine?

Something went wrong during the 2010 Soccer World Cup when the dead starting rising and attacking people. Ten years later, after fighting a losing battle, the surviving humans live in barricaded enclaves. The mysterious ‘Guardians’, humanlike figures with the ability to control the dead, offer them protection as long as they are willing to pay the price…

Deadlands is the debut novel by Lily Herne (the pseudonym for mother and daughter writing duo, Sarah and Savannah Lotz) and is set in Cape Town and surrounds. Don’t expect sunny days at the beach though. This is a post-apocalyptic Cape Town straight from your worst nightmares. Almost everything has been destroyed. Hordes of the living dead prowl the ravaged landscape and those crazy enough to venture into the Deadlands don’t last long. Society has collapsed and those in charge worship the Guardians and zombies as saviors.

The story is told through the eyes of Lele, a feisty seventeen-year-old girl who, together with her brother, is forced to live with her estranged father and his new wife after her grandmother passes away. The first person perspective really works well and as Lele comes to grips with life in the enclave the back-story and reality of post-apocalyptic life slowly unfolds.

The characters are well-written and believable. Initially I was a bit concerned since the characters Lele first encounters at her new school were severely stereotyped (Thabo - the hunk; Zit Face - the outcast; Summer and Nyameka - the airhead beauty queens), but after she encounters the Mall Rats things were much better. The members of the Mall Rats are all distinctive characters with their own unique personalities and backgrounds. I loved the fact that both Lele and Saint, the main female characters, are more than capable of looking after themselves and kicking some serious zombie butt. My favourite character was Ginger, the movie-crazed, pop-culture spouting Brit who really adds some great humor into the mix (especially since Lele doesn’t get any of the pop-culture references).

Deadlands is an emotional rollercoaster ride, sad, terrifying, funny and thought-provoking all in one. The writing is fast-paced, easy to read and engaging. While the story is full of drama interspersed with lighter moments it also tackles some serious issues. The religious and political undertones at the start of the novel were very interesting and a great counterpoint to current politics in SA. The Resurrectionist cult in charge of the enclave is as corrupt as its predecessor and through copious amounts of propaganda they try to control the population. They teach their own selectively revised version of history and show violent films in order to highlight how terrible the world was before the Guardians came to save humanity from itself. As their power grows they become increasingly hostile towards anyone who dares to oppose them, negating the freedom South Africans fought for in the first place.

The unique take on zombies was a breath of fresh air. Unlike their movie counterparts these zombies aren’t slow, bumbling idiots and going for the brain won’t necessarily kill them. Newly turned zombies (hatchlings) are fast and deadly. Only after their bodies are old and decayed do they become less lethal. The true origins of the zombies and Guardians remain unclear, but hopefully this will be explored more in the forthcoming sequel.

There were some things that irritated me. The excessive use of prognostications to build tension really got to me after a while. Almost every chapter seems to end with some line hinting at future calamity or intrigue. A couple of examples:
“What I didn’t know, and couldn’t have guessed, was that they were about to get a whole lot worse.” (p 11)
“But, as I was about to find out, that was way easier said than done.” (p 15)
“I couldn’t have been more wrong.” (p 28)
“Of course, later on, I found out exactly what he meant by that.” (p 40)
Used in moderation this is a very effective technique, but with overuse it quickly loses its impact.

There’s also a fight scene which seems to have a part missing. The characters get surprised by a zombie, weapons are drawn and then the zombie just seems to vanish. From the context it is evident that there was a fight, but it is never mentioned that the zombie is killed. One character does wipe his knife afterwards, but aside from drawing it when the zombie first appears, he never actually uses it. (This happens at the bottom of page 116 for those interested).

Despite the shortcomings I really enjoyed Deadlands and I'll definitely pick up the sequel when it's published. The whole world and concept has me hooked and it will be interesting to see what this writing duo can come up with next.

The Verdict:
Deadlands is a YA zombie novel with a uniquely South African setting and a refreshing take on zombies. It’s a gripping read with some unexpected plot twists and captivating characters. Despite being aimed at young adults it will also appeal to more mature readers as well. If you like zombie novels this is an absolute must, but even if zombies aren’t your thing it is well worth a try. It definitely beats sparkly vampires!

The Rating: 7/10

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