Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 280 Pages
At a Glance: This book is dark, full of despair, nightmares, living and dead and blood—lots of blood—and, oh my golly, it is brilliant!
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Once upon a time, humanity could no longer contain the rage that swelled within, and the world ended in a wave of fire.
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.
Review: Not since his novel Into This River I Drown has reading the work of author TJ Klune left me so gobsmacked—so completely overwhelmed, but Withered + Sere has done just that. How long do I have to wait for the sequel? More than thirty seconds is just much, much too long. What does a bad dog who may or may not be able to communicate with his master, a deranged, bible quoting robot named SIRS, and a psycho, bloodthirsty killer/weapon named Lucas have in common? One man with just one name, Cavalo. If you are thinking this might be a comedy for which Klune is undeniably a master in creating, think again—this one is no laughing matter—not by a long shot. It is dark, full of despair, nightmares, living and dead and blood—lots of blood—and, oh my golly, it is brilliant!
Set in a post-apocalyptic America where people have lived beyond the radiation and once again can have children and attempt to live off a land that was left smoldering from a nuclear shitstorm, our hero, or maybe antihero, Cavalo, manages to exist. He tries his very best to stay well away from other people, notably those living closest to him in Cottonwood, and stick to the non-human types. His companions include his dog, Bad Dog by name, who is loyal to a fault, and the robot SIRS who live with him in the correctional state prison Cavalo has chosen to call home. Abandoned and crumbling yet still functional in many ways, the prison is the only place Cavalo feels somewhat safe. So when he and Bad Dog decide to go hunting and end up in the badlands, and are nearly captured by the unspeakable monsters who live there—cannibals who kill anything that wanders into their territory—it is not surprising that Cavalo captures one of their own and brings him back for some good old post-apocalyptic justice in Cottonwood.
Lucas is one of the Dead Rabbits—the name of a bloodthirsty, lawless gang controlled by a mysterious leader named Patrick. All Cavalo knows about Lucas is that he is most definitely a psycho, a killer, and mute—the result of having his neck sliced clear across in the past and yet somehow managing to survive. But there is something more to Lucas—something that Cavalo recognizes, that Bad Dog calls “smells different,” and for that reason when Lucas is found being tortured by some newcomer at Cottonwood, Cavalo decides to rescue him and take him home—to the prison—and thus begins a journey that will wrap you up in alternating bouts of horror and fascination and keep you frantically reading to the very end—to the cliffhanger end that Klune promises he will make good on in the next installment.
I cannot begin to describe every good thing about this novel. First, there is the alternate world that is gripped in harsh storms and bone numbing cold, even though it is only October and still early in the winter season. Every moment spent in this incredibly well-crafted world gives you a better glimpse into the brilliant mind of this slightly demented author. You can feel this world deep in your bones and sense what it must be like to eke out an existence there. Next the wealth of characters, often mere ghost memories from Cavalo’s tortured memories, are never so many as to confuse the reader but rather, just enough to give this novel a feeling of fullness—of community—even though many in this little hamlet are already dead. The living are more harsh, hardened from living an almost hand-to-mouth existence, yet there is still some civility—a school for the children, sentries at the gate to warn of those horrible Dead Rabbits, families clinging to each other, and then those swift, frantic moments of stolen couplings that keeps them remembering what it once was like to be loved and love in return. And through it all we have Cavalo and that dog, Bad Dog, who I swear is the most precious animal I have ever seen, written into a story.
I could go on and on—I cannot wait for the next installment. With Withered + Sere, TJ Klune has unleashed nightmares that will rock you to the core, but he also has given you characters that will cling to your heart far beyond the last page. I cannot say more than this: I highly recommend this novel to you. It will rock your world in all the right ways.
You can buy Withered + Sere here: