By: Rajan Khanna
252 pages (Trade Paperback)
In a world where a contagion, known as the bug, broke out causing those infected to become ferals (wild not quite zombie people), Ben Gold is doing ok…until he loses his airship and gets stuck in the last place he wants to be, on the ground.
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I need to stop picking up random books at the library, when I’m supposed to be reading from my to-read pile, but this one was short and caught my eye. I wonder if there’s some sort of support group for compulsive book gathering? I digress…
Honestly, I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted to, and while Tad Williams’ endorsement of “…like Hemingway meets The Walking Dead” made it intriguing, it also had me wondering how I would feel about it. I’m not a Hemingway fan, though I’ve only read one short story so far, and I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I hate zombies. Here, the ferals are just un-zombie-like enough for me to read it, but only just. The mention of airships and a post-apocalyptic world was enough to get me interested though. Ultimately, the things I liked pretty evenly matched the things I did not. Allow me to explain…
The story had a lot of promising elements that somehow didn’t quite come together for me. The air ships, floating city, and “stay off the ground” mentality were all great and had a wonderful steampunk vibe. I have absolutely no complaints about that. The premise was good. The contagiousness of the bug added an extra element of danger, that made simply shooting a feral into a very dangerous proposition, since a speck of contaminated blood could lead to a fate most would consider worse than death. However, as much as the characters kept themselves covered with scarves and gloves and everything, they never talked about what they did with them after or how they acquired so many. Think of it this way, you go out, run into a feral, kill it, and blood gets on your scarf. Ah! Do you keep wearing that scarf? Do you promptly dispose of it? Burn it? Where do you get a replacement? How often do you do this? I just feel like keeping a scarf with contaminated blood on it near your face after the fact just doesn’t make sense, and yet I never noticed a character disposing of contaminated garments. I find that odd.
Those things that felt out of place or didn’t quite make sense, like the example above, were my biggest problem with the story. They distracted me, pulled me out of the story, and in some cases made it harder to relate to the characters. The obviousness of Ben’s crush on Miranda, the scientist, that he somehow didn’t realize he had, seemed oddly cliche for a book that is supposed to be gritty and realistic. What really got to me was a moment when she happens to take her hair down, and oh look, the pretty scientist is pretty. Classic romantic comedy tropes didn’t seem to fit here, maybe if it were more of a cut and dry steampunk adventure it would have made more sense.
Lastly, the main character seemed to be randomly Jewish. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with him being Jewish, or any other faith for that matter, it’s just that he seemed to become it rather suddenly. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my reading, but there was a moment where he suddenly recognized Hebrew and met a rabbi. My problem is that there was no real mention of his faith or knowledge of the language before, so it felt abrupt. There may have been a very brief mention of a Star of David early on but that was it. Up to the point with the rabbi, there had been no mention, in all that talk of his Dad and Ben’s past, of learning Hebrew or caring at all about his ancestry. If anything, like most people in a messed up post-apocalyptic world, he didn’t seem to be particularly fond of any belief system other than survival. It just caught me off guard, and all those little things just kept making it more and more difficult to invest in the story or the characters the way I wanted to.
Plot wise, it was a decent adventure, and Tad Williams seemed to like it. Normally I would trust his judgement, but it just didn’t work for me. Perhaps I’m just being picky and it was a wrong book at the wrong time kind of situation. Maybe I should have been reading Endsinger like I had originally planned. It’s hard to say. Until next time…