Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone.
I really enjoyed Pale Rider so when the author offered me a review copy of the sequel, I jumped at the chance. Sad to say, I didn’t find this installment as interesting. Janus is a zombie leader and he controls his pack of zombies through instinct. He also uses this power, instinct, to control a non-zombiefied deer or elk (I forget which), which he rides upon. The zombies are definitely different than the ones we saw in Book 1, being able to group together like this and be lead by a strong ‘personality’. However, I found the whole instinct power not well flushed out and difficult to believe in. Yep, I can totally believe in zombies and genetically created dinosaur-looking beasties, but I had a hard time with this instinct. Mostly, it was because of the elk. Wild animals have their own agendas – eat, sleep, fornicate, repeat. Elk aren’t big fans of rotting meat smell either. So Janus is using his power, instinct, to keep this elk in line, by negating the elk’s own instincts to run? That’s where Janus’s power gets to squishy and ill-defined for me.
The character, Pale Rider, is a reluctant leader in his town. He settles disputes and folks seek him out for advice on difficult fencing situations. He has a young daughter and he deeply misses his wife. Janus has recognized him as the human leader and if Janus wants to ‘free’ these humans from their boring lives, giving them the gifts of instinct and freedom, he must take out Pale Rider. The story sets up early for a good Western-type showdown and I really enjoyed the building of suspense.
Then we have Heche, who is like a mad scientist. She creates new dinos to sell to the local farmers. They are used in putting up fencing, taking down trees, and farming. I really like the basics of her character – she’s a seeker of knowledge both in books and through her work. However, this is another area that isn’t really clear. Does she have a lab with petri dishes and sterile equipment? Or is more like a wizard’s barn, full of smelly potions and unidentified bits of dried animals? I would have liked a bit more on this front because it ties into other questions I have. How far has civilization fallen? There’s a reference to contact lenses and it’s unlikely someone whipped those up, even if the town has a watchmaker. Is it 6 months since the zombie calamity or 6 years? If it’s 6 months, then contact lenses are still around. If it’s 6 years, then no, not realistic.
Book 1 was pretty sparse on the ladies and Book 2 does better but there are definitely not enough females around to save humanity. Heche has the most lines, but that’s perhaps 10-20 lines, though we get some quality time in her head. Pale Rider’s young daughter also has a role. Then there are 2 female zombies (why so few?) and maybe a few human ladies tossed in here and there. As usual, I like to see more ladies in post-apocalyptic stories. How else will we rebuild?
OK. So, bad to the goodness. We do get a showdown at the end and there were some twists. The author took the story beyond what I expected. These zombies are more like feral beasts than shuffling corpses; they are not so easily beaten. Heche creates a fantastical beast that comes in handy. And then there’s that thing that happened right at the end that has me craving to know where things will go from here. It’s all very dramatic at the end and very satisfying.
I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost (from the author) in exchange for an honest review.
The Narration: Randal Schaffer’s performance was OK. When the characters were talking, he imbued them with emotion. The rest of the story he read in a monologue that made me wonder if he was bored with the book or not.