The world has been devastated by virulent flu and panic-induced nuclear war. In the former city of St. Louis, two visionaries prepare to leave the safety of their walled city, Sanctuary, and travel to Oregon with the mysterious guide Gawea. Their names are Lewis and Clark.
While the characters and details of Percy’s (Red Moon, 2013, etc.) novel are hardly original on the surface—corrupt new government that controls the people through fear; great unknown beyond the walls where monsters and lawless men roam; climate destroyed by human negligence—there exists, from the very first pages, a tension that engages interest. Much of this is due to Percy’s clear, descriptive prose but also to the smaller elements of surprise that he builds into the narrative. The supernatural side of Lewis’ character and the vulnerable love that Clark feels for her (yes, her) brother balance out the more expected episodes of mutant monsters and human cruelty. Cutting back and forth from the small band of travelers to the terrors and uprising in Sanctuary, Percy uses this to build suspense but also to develop relationships among the characters. There are moments during the journey that recall great fantasy classics like The Lord of the Rings, and deepened by the historical Lewis and Clark connection, this part is ultimately the more interesting, but there is a certain satisfaction that comes from the inevitable fall of the corrupt Sanctuary as well. The problem with post-apocalyptic novels, however, is that they are devilishly hard to end—and this one is no exception. The final chapter feels more like a punch line than a revelation. It’s hard to imagine much positive change in this ravaged world, so how can the characters hold out hope?
In a literary world peppered with post-apocalyptic novels, Percy’s stands out.