Audiobook Review: Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

1 09 2011

Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder with Mark Boyett, Kristine Hvam and Elizabeth Rodgers

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: This highly satisfying sequel to Ex Heroes plays out like a Graphic Novel in your head, with highly visual action and some cool new characters.

Grade: B

Ex-Patriots is the sequel to the zombie vs. superhero apocalyptic novel Ex-Heroes. I like zombie apocalyptic sequels, particularly for planned series. If the author follows the formula of zombie series, the first novel tends to be a more intimate tale, surrounding a select group of survivors, and how they managed to survive and live in a world overrun by the undead. With the basics set up, and the characters established, the second novel in a zombie series gets to do something I always love, expand the world. Sure, you could leave the same survivors in the same locale basically fighting the same scourge, perhaps in greater numbers, but what’s the fun in that. We want to see what’s happened to the country, whether there is a government struggling to maintain order. And we want new bad guys. Whether they be some crazy religious cult or a gang of bandits, we want some new human threat to add to the zombie plague. Sure, we want interesting new twists on the zombie mythos, but, we also want a bit of that old formula for us to grab onto. Peter Clines knows this. Peter Clines has a strong grasp on the pop culture of the zombie apocalypse. So, of course, ex-Patriots gives us what we want, shadowy government figures, enhanced super soldiers, and the greatest of all apocalyptic enemies, the power hungry military establishment. Yep, this should be all sorts of fun.

Again, Peter Clines has created a highly visual zombie apocalypse novel that reads like a Graphic novel, except that your brain is the artist. He adds a cool new hero, a surprisingly frightening new nemesis and mixes in some dire straights in this satisfying sequel to Ex-heroes. Clines revisits the formula from ex-Heroes of slowly developing his new characters by jumping from past to present so we often see the consequences before understanding the reasons behind how the characters got to where they were. This plays out well over the course of the novel offering twists and surprises so that even the most perceptive readers will find themselves caught off guard, Clines uses the old apocalyptic nemesis of a rogue military unit in a new and interesting way, which makes the novel have a comfortable feel without becoming overly predictable. Add to all this his crisp, well plotted action scenes and listeners should have a lot of fun with this latest edition Cline’s Ex series.

Ex-Patriots uses the narration style of its predecessor, with multiple narrators handling different character POV, and two women narrators handling the female dialogue. This gives Ex-Patriots an almost Graphic Audio feel without the annoying sound effects. Personally, I am always skeptical of this approach. I believe adding in female dialogue into male narrated POV’s often leads to bland characterizations. Narrators need material to help build characters, and I think it’s a struggle for them to truly embrace and differentiate characters when only doing snippets of dialogue. Kristine Hvam does a good job and is helped by the fact that she worked on the previous novel, but you do feel some level of disconnect from the characters. Yet, the process works with this novel do to it’s almost comic book, visual feel. Any loss of female characterization is made up by the crisp reading of action scenes, and the excellent job on the male voices in their POV.  I think this is a good narrating team, and only hope that Hvam is given more of a role in future audio versions, because her voice is fantastic and she does a good job with the material given. Jay Snyder is also excellent, using his "meanwhile at the Hall of Justice" voice perfectly. The whole production is well cast and an extremely fun listen for all fans of superheroes and zombies.

Audiobook Review: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

19 05 2011

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Fantasy, Zombies

Quick Thoughts: Ex-Heroes reads like a novelization of a Summer Blockbuster, full of exciting action and stunning visuals.

Grade: B

I was never much of a comic book guy. Yeah, I loved science fiction, but it never translated into the comic book realm. My knowledge and understanding of Superheroes came mostly from The Superfriends cartoons. The one lesson Superfriends taught me was that Superheroes were not just our physical betters, but our moral betters as well. Now, my comic book friends have scoffed at me when I said this, saying that the morality of those with super powers was quite ambiguous, at least in the comics. Now, on a surface level, I could see that, yet I could never get the past having Zan, Jayna and Gleek explain to me why vandalism was wrong and Batman telling me I shouldn’t approach unknown dogs. So, when I discovered there was a Superhero themed Zombie novel I was intrigued. I really cannot think of a more morally ambiguous literary scenario that a zombie apocalypse. How would the upholders of Truth, Justice and the American Way, deal with a recently infected human? Would our heroes use their superpowers to get an edge over other Survivors, or would they attempt to help as many innocents as possible? These were the questions floating in my mind as I started listening to Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.

I have to say, for the first third of the book or so, I was under whelmed. The novel jumped between “now” with the heroes having established a safe zone in Los Angeles, leading foraging expeditions, and protecting people from zombies, and “then“, a look at how some of the heroes gained their powers, and their initial reactions to the zombie outbreak. I much preferred the “then” segments over the “now: segments which I felt were apocalyptic cliché and a bit muddled. Yet, as the novel progressed, I really began to get into it. Ex-Heroes reads like a novelization of a blockbuster movie. As the plot develops, with a growing conflict between the heroes and another group of survivors led by an inner city gang, the prose became more crisp, and the action stunningly visual. The Superheroes are definitely human in their foibles, with jealousies and grudges. The leader of the Heroes, Stealth is remark unlikable, with quite a dubious morality, yet St George acts as a perfect countering force, creating realistic, if not fantastic tension among the heroes. Even those who they protect hold grudges and are distrustful of the motives of the heroes, adding more fuel to a volatile mix. Clines pacing is rapid quick, as it builds to an exciting conclusion. Ex-Heroes is not going to win and literary prizes nor is it going to be applauded for its gritty realism. What is it, if you are willing to suspend disbelief and embrace the fantastic, is a fast, fun genre bending listen.

While I enjoyed the performances of narrators Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam, I wasn’t a fan of the overall structure of narration. I never like using a male narrator, yet interposing a female narrator for the female dialogue. To me, this always sounds fake, and there is never any real flow to the dialogue. It sounds like what it is, two people reading lines in separate studios. No interplay. No chemistry. For my money, it offers nothing special to a production. That being said, the individual performances by the narrators were excellent. Jay Snyder is a veteran narrator, who excels at concise reading of fast paced action. He never rushes, and this allows the listener to be able to better visualize the action as it is taking place. Kristine Hvam handles her voice roles well. I would have liked to see more female Heroes POV to expand Hvam’s role, beyond a few short narratives, and the female dialogue. All together, Ex-Heroes was a fun listen and definitely enough of a teaser to get me excited for its upcoming sequel, Ex-Patriots.