Title: Withered + Sere (Immemorial Year #1)
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Page Count: 280
Reviewed by: Renée
Heat Level: 1 flame out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
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.
My math and logic brain will never do this story justice with a review. The writing and themes were just too poignant and heart breaking, but I will attempt it.
This is a story unlike TJ has written before. It’s harsh, gritty, soul-crushing. There is no happiness in this world he’s built. But damn if it doesn’t pull you in because you want to see just one GOOD thing come out of this fucked-up world.
This is a post-apocalyptic story in its simplest description. But it’s so much more. The setting brings us about 100 years after the world has burned. 100 years after a mass, nuclear destruction of almost all of the citizens on Earth. The remaining, and who knows who is left other than those you see around you, are living a life of no contact, no order, no laws, no structure. Cavalo, our MC, is a loner who only remembers hearing stories of things like “motor cars.” The world is in ruins with a blanket of gray in the sky that still hasn’t lifted after all this time.
And what is a world without laws, without structure? Chaos. The worst of humanity has come out because there is only the fight for your life, for the lives of any family you have left. Rape and murder are commonplace. Cavalo lost his wife and son in a tragic manner years ago, and he has no will to find any new attachments to people. He stumbled upon an old correctional facility from Before (the time before the world’s destruction), and has 2 “friends”: Bad Dog, his trusty companion, and SIRS, Sentient Integrated Response System, a robot from Before who “manned” the prison with his technology.
This book is about humanity. And (in)sanity. For what happens to humans with no laws and only chaos when they are forced to endure the harshest and most brutal life you can imagine? And what happens to sanity?
Cavalo hears voices (the bees) all the time. He hears Her, his wife and his son, Jamie. He sees them in the setting around him. He can hear and communicate with Bad Dog.
And what happens when the world is in chaos? There are leaders of groups rising up to create order again. There is the “government,” the United Federated States of America (UFSA). They are travelling to the small communities that have come together and spreading their “word.” In this type of environment, can you trust them? Do they have the citizens’ best interest at heart or are the leaders just evil and power-hungry? (Sound familiar?)
And then there are the Dead Rabbits, led by a man known only as Patrick. They are known as the most evil group to exist in the current setting. They rape, murder, and cannibalize people while they’re still alive. Everyone is afraid of them, but without “modern” technology, how can you stop such a brutal force when you don’t even know where they are? They can lurk in the small communities hiding from them.
Cavalo comes across a Dead Rabbit one day in the forest. He bests him and takes him to the nearest community where he has acquaintances. But the UFSA is there, and they torture the Dead Rabbit. It is too much for Cavalo to bear, especially since he sees something in the eyes of this Dead Rabbit that looks too much like his own soul. So he kills the UFSA “agents” and brings Lucas to his penitentiary home.
Lucas has his own horrors that he’s lived, and they are evident to those around him. He is unable to speak and has a large, horrid scar around the front of his neck that looks to be from a hanging. The dynamics between Cavalo, Lucas, Bad Dog, and SIRS are amazing to read about.
I can’t say anymore without spoiling this book, but let me say that TJ has created a world here that I am in awe of his writing ability for. It’s a tiny bit similar to the bleakness of the In the Company of Shadows series. It’s also probably going to be epic in my eyes, just like that series. Klune leaves us on a cliffhanger (though not in the middle of something RIGHT NOW). It’s more like the story is just getting started. He even apologizes in his afterword, but assures us that the second book will be released this year.
The writing, for its capture of (in)humanity and (in)sanity in this world he’s built, is 5+ stars. I will settle on 4 overall stars due to the fact that it’s incomplete at this point. And that’s relevant by its length, which is full-length to anyone’s standards, but it’s Klune’s shortest book to date, coming in at 280 pages. Klune has outdone himself – truly. I am literally in awe of his writing ability.
For those looking for the types of stories that you found in ANY of his other books, this will leave you scratching your head. If you read him for his humor, there is none of that here. If you read him for his relationship buildup, well……like I said – incomplete. But if you read him for the stories he tells and his writing ability, then you will want to be swept away in this story, as I was.