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.
Withered + Sere is possibly the most beautiful and profound book that T.J. Klune has even written. However, it is also incredibly heart-wrenching, violent, and bleak, and it might be a challenging story for some readers.
I'm a happy person who likes to live in a happy bubble. I don't watch the news and I avoid stories about sick children, tortured puppies, and loved ones dying of unspeakable illnesses. I am a worrier, and traumatic stories make me stay up all night sweating and crying.
This book was almost too difficult to read, and it pushed me all the way to my limits... past them a bit, if I'm being honest.
This is the shortest full-length story that I've seen from T.J. Klune, and I read it very quickly. However, it packs a huge punch in its 280 pages.
The book takes places in a dark dystopian future where civilization as we know it has been destroyed by nuclear warfare. The people that remain live in a lawless society where people fight to survive in impossible conditions. There is rampant murder and people are brutalized and killed on a regular basis. While some of the more gory details are left out (this isn't a horror book), this book doesn't shy away from such topics as cannibalism, rape, death of children, mutilation, and torture. Some of these things were too much for me to bear, and I struggled to get through some particular disturbing and affecting scenes.
But what got me through it, what pushed me on, was the incredibly beautiful writing. I think that this book gave T.J. Klune a real chance to flex his creative muscles and move away from his comfort zone of humor and zingy banter. The writing was dreamy and atmospheric, and reminded me a lot of lyrical high fantasy in style. His words were sparse but each one felt deliberate. This isn't a rambling book or a book that draws its power from lots of dialogue. Instead, this book is like a poem with each word having a specific purpose.
Also, just so readers know, this isn't a romance book. Not even a little bit. This is a gritty dystopian story with a main character who happens to be bisexual. There are hints of attraction in this story, but to call this anything remotely romance-y would be a misnomer. However, because of that, I think this is really T.J. Klune's chance to gather some more readers who might have shied away from his books in the past because they aren't romance readers. Anyone who likes fantasy or dystopian stories would be able to pick this one up and be happy.
The main characters in this book are complex beyond words. We get small glimpses inside Cavalo's head, and what we find there is dangerous, maddening, and endlessly fascinating. The full puzzle of Cavalo and the other MCs are not solved in this book, and readers must wait for the next book, suffering a cliffhanger ending, to find out their darkest secrets.
Where T.J. Klune excels, in this book and in all of his others, is in his writing of secondary characters. Bad Dog is interesting enough to warrant his own story, and SIRS just blew me away. SIRS is also the only glimpse of anything approaching humor in the book, though his character is, again, one of mostly craziness and angst. Every one of the secondary characters, and even the most minor players, were impeccably written and conceived.
This book also contains some lovely illustrations. I'm not sure if they are in color, because on my Kindle Voyage they were black and white, but I think that they enhanced the story and gave it a tiny bit of a graphic novel feel.
This book challenged me a lot as a reader. At times I simply wanted to put it down and forget about it. The pain in this book really affected me, and I don't know if I'd say that I enjoyed reading it. However, I admire the art that is this story, and I will certainly be moving on to the next in the series because I simply need to know what happens, even if the story breaks me.
Be gentle, T.J. Klune. I don't know how much more my heart can take.
*Copy provided in exchange for an honest review*
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