One hundred years later, in the wasteland formerly known as America, a broken man who goes only by the name of Cavalo survives. Purposefully cutting himself off from what remains of civilization, Cavalo resides in the crumbling ruins of the Northern Idaho Correctional Institution. A mutt called Bad Dog and a robot on the verge of insanity comprise his only companions. Cavalo himself is deteriorating, his memories rising like ghosts and haunting the prison cells.
It’s not until he makes the dangerous choice of crossing into the irradiated Deadlands that Cavalo comes into contact with a mute psychopath, one who belongs to the murderous group of people known as the Dead Rabbits. Taking the man prisoner, Cavalo is forced not only to face the horrors of his past, but the ramifications of the choices made for his stark present. And it is in the prisoner that he will find a possible future where redemption is but a glimmer that darkly shines.
The world has died.
This is the story of its remains.
Illustrated by Blake Dorner.
One day. One day someone, and I don't know who, but someone will say enough. A line will be drawn, and there will come an hour that we will rise and say we've had enough. That we won't take the darkness any longer. That we will say no. That we will fight against those who would break us. We will fight back, and in this hour, we will have succeeded in what we have set out to do.
The inherent destructive and power hungry nature of man is what makes this story affecting and gloomy, but there will always be those who will not go gentle into that good night, who will rage against the dying of the light. So we continue to hope. Perhaps foolishly but that, too, is the nature of man.
I feel like I owe TJ Klune an apology. Does Hallmark make a 'Sorry I misjudged your writes' card? Because I did. I've been paddling in the mm pool for awhile now, so I knew who he was but all I ever saw were gross sobbing reviews. No way. I figured he was a one trick weep reaping pony and we'd never interface. Until Wolfsong. That's when I knew I had to try something else by him and then I stumbled across the words "dark" and "post-apocalyptic" and thought "O'Rully?".
Withered + Sere is a brilliant, sometimes poignant and dark novel that was invigorating to read. From start to finish I was fully immersed into this gritty, dystopian tale of a man on the brink of complete insanity. Cavalo is an antihero who lives in a former prison with a sarcastic and slightly bossy robot named SIRS and Bad Dog, his loyal and hilarious canine companion. As Cavalo's backstory reveals itself it becomes clear how much he's survived. The only things keeping him from spiraling into the black hole of psychosis that he's skirting the edges of are his friends. The entire story is told through his distorted prism and it can be fragmented and difficult to follow, but not only is that accurate it's also what I loved most about it.
The prison is just outside The Deadlands where the Dead Rabbits reside. This world is well crafted without being overwhelmingly or tediously detailed. The Dead Rabbits are cannibals and not to be trifled with but one day when Cavalo and Bad Dog are out hunting their prey wanders into The Deadlands. They narrowly escape capture but couldn't outlast the tenacious Dead Rabbit with his ghastly mien.
Once the Dead Rabbit joins this rag tag bunch things begin to subtly change. Neither trusts the other but they are inexplicably drawn to one another. There is no sex and I wouldn't categorize this as a romance. There is but a glimmer of something between them some of the time, the rest of the time they are a hairsbreadth away from killing each other. I envision a whole lot of obstacles before that glimmer turns into a flame. It seems inevitable that a war between the Dead Rabbits, Cavalo and his band of misfits, the townsfolk of Cottonwood and the UFSA is coming. Allies and enemies will surely be made. And lost.
Lucas kissed him again. It was chaste. Dry. Catastrophic.
The way in which the story is written made me feel like a girl chasing butterflies and laughing with delight. Every time one question was answered another three would spring up in its place. So I just kept running. Withered + Sere is meaty with nuanced characters none of whom are sane and some of whom aren't human but still enrich this story and make it unforgettable.
Also, it ends on a cliffhanger so have the next one handy.
Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.
In a world ravaged by fire and descending into madness, Cavalo has been given an ultimatum by the dark man known as Patrick: return Lucas to him and the cannibalistic Dead Rabbits, or the town of Cottonwood and its inhabitants will be destroyed.
But Lucas has a secret embedded into his skin that promises to forever alter the shape of things to come—a secret that Cavalo must decide if it’s worth dying over, even as he wrestles with his own growing attraction to the muted psychopath.
Cavalo has twenty-one days to prepare for war. Twenty-one days to hold what is left of his shredded sanity together. Twenty-one days to convince the people of Cottonwood to rise up and fight back. Twenty-one days to unravel the meaning behind the marks that cover Lucas.
A meaning that leads to a single word and a place of unimaginable power: Dworshak.
War is coming.
The time has come to take a stand against the Dead Rabbits. Cavalo becomes the de facto leader much to his dismay of this little rebellion consisting of his makeshift family and the people of Cottonwood. Lives are lost. Hatchets are buried. Secrets are revealed. Friendships are formed. Blood is shed.
Crisped + Sere is much more gruesome than its predecessor but no less exhilarating to read. The Dead Rabbits are reminiscent of zombies which isn't something I go for usually. Thankfully the details of their appearance is kept to a minimum. They are mindlessly devoted to their demigod. They are relentless and their numbers are vast, but they fight without purpose. Whereas the people of Cottonwood are desperate. Desperate people who have accepted the inevitability of their fate thereby making them formidable foes.
The pacing of this entire series is breakneck. Clear your schedule and pack a sack lunch or two because if you can manage to put either of these books down you are stronger than I. Intense is an understatement and these battles bring new meaning to words the longest day. There is a lot of warring and gore but the life-force of this series is the characters and their quiet moments that are both evocative and heart wrenching.
The fact that no attempts are made to depict either of these characters as anything other than what they are is daring and continues to be what I love most about this series. Cavalo nor Lucas suddenly become logical statesmen or merciful. They are both survivors who do what it takes to survive including being ruthless. Cavalo does begin to question his own reality, but honestly, he's the sanest insane character I've ever read. He can most definitely be a son of a bitch, but that doesn't make me like him any less. He's survived unimaginable horrors-bees, dancing trees, Mr. Fluff, rubber bands, snow globes-and is still capable of caring for and even loving others, though the way he shows that love is unorthodox. He is hardened, gruff and gristly. He's a man of few words and a misanthrope, but when he lowers the shield... it'll take your breath away.
Theirs is not a traditional romance but it is devastating in its own rite. The boy who cannot speak and the only man who can hear him. They both contemplate suicide at various times and they are constantly on the razor's edge of killing each other. Yet there is no fear between them. Their trust in one another is tacit, all posturing to the contrary.
But most of all, he wondered when Lucas had gotten so under his skin, like a shard of glass now breaking into pieces. He wondered if he could have stopped it if he'd even tried.
He wasn't a stupid man. But sometimes, even the smartest of men fall prey to hope.
The ending is hopeful and realistic for the future of mankind. There isn't a doubt in my mind that Lucas and Cavalo will make it or die trying. And I legit squealed when I read there is more to come from this series. This story does not end on a cliffhanger though.
The quibbles I have are few and do not in any way detract from the 5 Hearts I'm giving it. I continue to be dogged by that quote. I think I know what it means, but I can't be certain. I also am confused as to how Cavalo et al. have evaded the effects of the radiation whereas the Dead Rabbits have not. Makes me wonder what's in The Deadlands. ALSO! I really missed the illustrations! I kept thinking one would pop up sooner or later but I'm guessing they aren't in the ARC version. So congrats to all of you who didn't ARC review it. *sad frown*
Needless to say, I believe I'm starting to understand the Klunedimonium and I would highly recommend this series. I might even pester some people into reading it. I won't go so far to say he's an autobuy, because ugly crying is a big ole NO, but I will read all his blurbs before making a decision from now on!
Review copies were provided in exchange for honest opinions.
Find out more on Goodreads and Dreamspinner Press.