I know we’re experiencing a kind of glut in dystopian fiction these days, but I do honestly enjoy the genre when it’s done well (my go-to examples are still always going to be Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which I am teaching this fall and SUPER excited about). I look for other examples by authors I haven’t read, and The Dead Lands was one such text. I’ve never read anything by Benjamin Percy, but one of my Facebook friends recommended it. I had already abandoned Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars (it just didn’t capture my interest, plus the presence of a DOG as a MAIN CHARACTER spooked me to no end. There is a reason I still refuse to watch Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows). The dog-less premise of The Dead Lands seemed way more promising.
The premise itself is fascinating: it’s a twist on Lewis-and-Clark going to the West Coast with Sacagawea, although the jaunt from St. Louis is one of survival and to find another land not ravaged by corruption after a deadly virus wipes out a good portion of the earth. Lewis Meriweather and Mina (short for Wilhelmina) Clark lead the expedition, which is fraught with perils of all kinds. Back in St. Louis, a young thief named Simon and Lewis’s co-curator of the local museum, Ella (whom I adored), work to bring justice to the town and expose the mayor for the greedy corrupt leader that he is.
I was really and truly engaged for the first half of the book. And then the white-man-self-loathing cloud descended. And it descended hard. I get that times are tough and you can’t be with your boo, and life sucks in general. But I’m guessing that should I be wandering in a post-nuclear wasteland without having had water to drink or a shower and facing down mutated wolves, I would *probably* be more concerned about dying than I would about my self-pity. But maybe I’m just crazy.
Overall, it was a disappointment. Great premise, okay execution, SO MUCH SELF-HATRED. 2.5 stars (given with immense disappointment).