The world is gone. The only thing left for the few remaining humans is survival. There are small towns, huddled together against the brutality of a life that no longer makes sense. Cavalo lives outside one of these towns, in an abandoned prison, with only a stray dog and a half mad robot for companionship. He talks to Bad Dog and acknowledges he is the only one who hears the dog respond. Cavalo understands he is probably insane, but he is surviving.
The one thing the townspeople and Cavalo share is a healthy dread of the Deadlands and the cannibalistic Dead Rabbits. They slaughter anyone foolish enough to wander into their territory and prey upon hapless townspeople. When Cavalo captures a mute Rabbit called Lucas, he can’t help believing the young man is different than the rest of his brutal gang. Cavalo doesn’t exactly trust him, but he knows he needs to keep the boy safe from the sinister and mysterious Patrick. As violence threatens the small family Cavalo has created, he must fight his way free of madness and take a stand against an unknown evil.
Withered + Sere is T.J. Klune’s venture into a post apocalyptic world inhabited by the few remnants of humanity. And as usual, Klune does not disappointment. Klune is pretty much an auto buy for me, but somehow this gem kept getting lost in the shuffle and as a result it was a perfect for our TBR Challenge Week for Reading Challenge Month.
There is brutality and softness in equal measure here and readers are often forced to run the gambit of emotions, all the while trying to decipher Cavalo’s reality from his madness. Cavalo was forced to do the unthinkable when his wife and son were attacked by Dead Rabbits years previously. His actions have continued to haunt him and now he exists as a man who teeters between survival and self-destruction. He does have friendships in the local town, but he is clearly better suited to isolation. His relationships with Bad Dog and SIRS are sweet and beautiful in their own way. And Klune does such a wonderful job giving Bad Dog and SIRS their own voices and senses of self, it’s easy for readers to connect with them.
Lucas is more of a conundrum. He’s violent and deadly, and yet with Cavalo he seems calmer and even remotely human. We don’t know much about his past or how he ended up with Patrick and the Dead Rabbits, but we’re generally led to believe he probably didn’t join willingly or was so young he had no say in the matter. So we’re cautiously sympathetic towards him. There isn’t a romance here. In fact, there’s barely a friendship between Lucas and Cavalo, but by the end of Withered + Sere, we see a strange sort of connection forming between them. The book is well paced and there is definitely a slow reveal regarding Lucas and his possible importance to the world left behind. But there is no conclusion given as the story continues in a second book, Crisped + Sere. So unless you just love a dangling cliffhanger, plan on reading the next installment. Klune’s voice and writing style are as strong as ever and this book shows his excellent range both in topic and style.
Withered + Sere isn’t always easy to read, but it is an excellent novel. Captivating characters and a well-drawn and detailed world left me feeling satisfied on every level. If you enjoy Klune’s work or a good post apocalyptic novel, Withered + Sere will not disappoint.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for TBR Pile Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous prize from NineStar Press. Four lucky winners will each receive a $25 NineStar Press gift card. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on TBR Pile Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.