It’s a good thing I took my time with The Dead Lands, although I can easily picture devouring it in an all-night reading frenzy. Once sated, I would lick my greedy chops; gazing at the remains of the feast laid before my dark imagination like a bloody sacrifice…
For those of you who have read my review of Dylan J. Morgan‘s horror shorts collection Dominio della Morte, you won’t be surprised to discover that I’m a die-hard fan of his work. His writing style is expressive, but tight. He doesn’t overdo the details, but he doesn’t skimp on them, either. What you see is usually what you get, although it’s worth mentioning the nuances below the surface of his easy-to-follow, engaging voice. As so often proves to be the case with well-written art, Dylan J. Morgan’s The Dead Lands paints a lasting mental picture.
Imagine a world far into the future; devoid of beauty: rotting, desolate, robbed of hope. Hemera, the ruined sister planet of Lane’s home planet, Erebus, represents the remains of a civilization not long gone, but gone long enough to warrant avoidance. Even worse, it’s populated by repulsive, deadly mutants, who crave flesh like it’s going out of style. It sucks to be Lane, former soldier and bounty hunter for Erebus’ sleazy government officials; it sucks even more to be the unwitting platoon of soldiers ordered to accompany him on a suicide mission to save the president, who has allegedly awoken from his cryogenically-induced sleep, but remains trapped on the mutant-infested Hemera. Will Lane and his reluctant crew manage to save the leader in time, or is the whole operation a sneaky set-up designed to bring about Lane’s demise?
This story has an intensely cinematic feel – the desolated landscapes described in close detail, with enough artistic flourish to capture the mind’s eyes in a very visual way. I won’t be surprised if this gets optioned into a film one day, because it’s got all the goods: suspenseful action sequences, generally believable dialogue, and a few nice plot twists. Bonus: horror lovers would be afforded the gleeful privilege of witnessing extraneous characters meet their ends in the most horrifying ways imaginable (hint: getting eaten alive by zombies might actually be less painful).
Two thumbs up from me.
What would a post-apocalyptic alien planet be without the locals who like to hide in the shadows and scare the s**t out of everyone? It takes a while for the mutants to appear, but once they do, they’re not easily forgotten. Props to Morgan for making the mutants so disgusting I literally gagged. The weirdest part? I somehow managed to muster the slightest iota of pity for them…though if I had a Woofer (a rad fictional weapon based on a combination of imagination, research, and Morgan’s experience playing first-person shooter games), you can bet your sweet fanny I’d be mowing down lines of those suckers as if killing them were going out of style. Hey, it’s a mutant-eat-human world – survival takes precedence over perfunctory pity.
Since The Dead Lands‘ cast of characters is so big, I’ve chosen to highlight the three who stood the most, and who also happen to have a love triangle vibe going on. Yes, this is a hybrid post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror/adventure novel…but it also has elements of romance – well, as romantic you can get during a fight for survival against deadly mutants on an alien planet.
Lane is the protagonist, and the strongest, most in-depth character. With a checkered past, a history of tension with the other soldiers, and seriously impressive weaponry chops, Lane has the tough-guy thing down pat – but he’s surprisingly fluffy on the inside (LOL – I just called this total badass “fluffy”). My favorite quote that sums up Lane in a nutshell: “The emptiness in his hands didn’t feel right.”
It’s true, though – he has a serious soft spot for Reese, the tough-as-nails former flame who’s more brains than brawn (but can definitely hold her own). Neither of them expected to be thrown together again, let alone under such extreme circumstances. After their initially tense interactions, it becomes obvious that the spark between them won’t die, despite the fact that Lane made a poor decision that ended up costing the life of someone close to Reese.
To make matters even more complicated, enter Lane’s rival, Ludger, who has pursued Reese ever since their one-night stand. A cowardly sort of weasel. the detestable Ludger is a good character to hate. I spent most of the second half of the book praying he’d get the worst death (mum’s the word on whether or not my dream came true). The tension between these three characters is well-played and interesting enough to sustain throughout the novel.
One of the scenes that really stood out to me was this one (read the excerpt by clicking the link). Not only does it exemplify Morgan’s balls-to-the-wall action sequences, but it gives vital insights into the characters and their relationships – all in less than 700 words. The best way I can describe Morgan’s narrative is to compare it to (sorry for the stereotype) Stephen King’s style before he got super-famous – it’s just good, old-fashioned storytelling, loaded with distinctive characters who, if they aren’t serving much purpose, get killed off in the most deliciously gory ways possible. Bring on the blood, guts, and flying severed heads…
The “Meh” Factor
Personally, I was not so into the romance between Reese and Lane – which most likely reflects my taste in reading, rather than the written execution of this relationship. However, had I learned more about their dynamic as a couple before the unfortunate incident with Reese’s brother, I probably would have cared more about whether or not they rekindled their romance. Briefly, their happier days were explored, but it simply wasn’t enough for me to care whether or not they managed to find their way back to each other in the midst of all their misunderstandings.
That Being Said…
I did keep hoping Lane and Reese would just get over their mutual misery and have sweaty floor sex while the mutants were banging on the church doors. That would have been hot (and maybe it was – I suppose you’ll just have to find that out for yourself).
Successful Hybrid Genre Fiction
After a subdued beginning, The Dead Lands morphs into a gleeful adrenaline rush of post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror that hurtles toward a memorable climax – and the tease of a sequel. For those unfamiliar with Dylan J. Morgan’s work, The Dead Lands is a fitting introduction: it shows his range and demonstrates why he calls himself a “defiler of dreams and creator of nightmares”.
The best part? I have 3 copies of The Dead Lands left from my Treasure Hunt Giveaway (offer expires on 1/1/15 at 11:59 PM EST). What better way to ring in 2015 than with a side of steaming-fresh mutant brains, complimented by a generous shot of cerebrospinal fluid?