Author: T.J. Klune
Publisher: DSP Publications
Rating: 4.5 stars
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Publisher
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 North 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: A hundred years ago, the world burned. A century later and the remains of humanity cling to survival in the ruins of their civilisation, in a world that has no hesitation in showing them they are no longer at the top of the food chain. The man known as Cavalo knows from experience just how harsh life is in this chaotic world. He sequesters himself in the abandoned correctional facility he had stumbled upon in his travels, with infrequent trips to Cottonwood, the closest town of sorts, for supplies. His sole companions are Bad Dog and SIRS, an AI robotic system. It’s better that way. He’d already lost everything he ever held dear once, there was nothing left of him to give to anyone else.
When Cavalo turns the tables on a Dead Rabbit – a lawless group of cannibalistic psychopaths – trying to kill him, something inexplicably stays his own hand. Left unsure of what to do with his captive, Cavalo decides to hand him over to the town of Cottonwood to decide the young man’s fate. Events conspire to thwart his plan, and Cavalo once again finds himself in charge of the Dead Rabbit, who would no doubt try to finish what he had started if he could. Weather and circumstances force Cavalo and the Dead Rabbit to find some kind of footing with each other in order to survive, and ever so slowly they establish a cautious respect for each other. Observing the dynamics between Cavalo and the young man develop and change over time was truly fascinating and I’m looking forward to seeing their relationship further change and grow as the story continues in the second book.
Withered + Sere is from the DSP Publications imprint of Dreamspinner, and therefore is not what would be considered a romance. What it is, is pure dystopian. It is about a man riding the edge of insanity in an insane world. There is the hint of a romantic element, one which seems like it will be developed further in the second book, but the focus of this story is on Cavalo, the post-apocalyptic world he inhabits and those he shares his life with, however reluctantly. Cavalo, at times, seems to be more than halfway to madness; he hears the voice of a dog speaking to him in his mind and is plagued by the ‘bees’ in his head that sometimes drive him mad. Although, I’m not convinced that Cavalo isn’t hearing Bad Dog’s, and even the mute Dead Rabbit’s, voices in his head. After all, who’s to say what impact radiation has had over that past century? Maybe some people have, in fact, developed the ability to hear other’s mindspeak.
This is a gorgeously written book. The writing holds no punches in portraying the starkness of Cavalo’s existence, yet also shows the beauty that is found in moments. There is a scene where Cavalo is retelling a well loved story to Bad Dog of when Cavalo finds and rescues Bad Dog as a tiny puppy that is heartbreakingly beautiful. Speaking of Bad Dog, he has to be one of the best secondary characters I’ve read. He truly is alive on the page. A mixture of childlike, fiercely loyal, determined, caring and piercingly insightful, Bad Dog was joy in an otherwise severe world. Even SIRS, the integrated robot that once policed the correctional facility Cavalo calls home, is a completely developed and interesting character. The rivalry between he and Bad Dog also provides some wonderful light relief. The world and characters the author has built here is amazing. Withered + Sere is the first in a two-part series so, while it doesn’t leave off in a true cliffhanger where it is in the middle of the action, it does obviously leave off in the middle of a continuing story. I can’t wait to see where the author takes us from here.