Book Review: Peter Clines’ Ex-Purgatory

Zombies vs. Superheroes.

It’s a heck of a high concept idea, but one that Peter Clines has gotten a lot of mileage out of. Ex-Purgatory is the fourth of his “Ex-Heroes” series, chronicling the adventures of some off-brand Avengers as they try to protect a small outpost of survivors in L.A.

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The previous book, Ex-Communication, started to take things into more superheroic territory, with the addition of an out and out magical supervillain at the core of things. Ex-Purgatory takes this a step further, not by adding more comic-book esque characters, but by using a comic-book storyline.

Y’see, at the beginning of Ex-Purgatory, we meet George– just a normal, boring janitor, living a normal, boring life, free of superheroics or zombie apocalypses. Normal, that is, except for the weird dreams he’s having where he flies and wears a costume, or the occasional hallucinations of shambling zombies trying to eat him (with little success, on account of his unbreakable skin).

To be honest, I’ve never really liked “our hero is trapped in a world where they’re not a hero” episodes. Batman’s done it, Superman’s done it, Buffy’s done it … it’s pretty much obligatory, after awhile. The problem is, while this allows the story to focus on a character’s civilian identity … it also separates the narrative from the superheroics and action that are the reason you’re watching (or reading, or whatever) in the first place. This kind of counts for double in Ex-Purgatory, as we lose track of both the heroic action AND the post apocalyptic rebuilding of civilization.

Of course, it’d be a boring book if George STAYED in janitor-world all this time– and thankfully, he doesn’t. Soon enough he rejoins the other ‘civilian’ versions of his super-team, and they work together to figure out and escape the mind-control prison they’ve been dragged into. Superbrawling ensues. Things especially pick up towards the end of the novel, in which we get a classic ‘two of our heroes are forced to fight!’ scene. Kind of. It’s complicated.

So yeah. Ex-Purgatory is enjoyable enough … even though it’s not my favorite of Clines’ Ex-Heroes series. It’s not bad– it’s just that the plot is based on a trope I’m not too fond of, and one that takes a little too much time to get to the interesting bits. This said, there’s a twist or two towards the end that genuinely did surprise me, so Clines gets credit for that. Also, I can’t fault Clines for using this as an opportunity to explore aspects of his characters that wouldn’t quite work in the standard post-apocalyptic setting.

To be honest, I wouldn’t suggest Ex-Purgatory to someone who hasn’t read Clines’ earlier books in the series, first. And even then, you might be able to skip over it, as the reviews I’m finding about the next book in the series, Ex-Isle, look to be a bit more promising. But hey, Ex-Purgatory wasn’t bad enough (or splatterpunk gruesome enough) to make me wanna vomit, so … well, I guess it’s a good thing I can’t make that joke now.

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