I’ve been a fan of Peter Clines ever since he first blew my mind by putting superheroes and zombies in the same book. His books are witty, funny and good romps that I can tear through without having to invest too much time and energy. His latest addition to the Ex-Heroes series, Ex-Isle, delivers more of the same fun.
Barry/Zzzap discovers a man-made island in the Pacific, consisting of several ships lashed together. The Mount sends a diplomatic mission of Barry, St. George and Madelyn the Corpse Girl, but what they find is not what they expected – a people who believe they are the only ones left, that the Mount heroes are all liars and follow their aquatic leader out of fear. Meanwhile, a PTSD-stricken Danielle travels to the Mount’s newest outpost, Eden, as part of its security detail, taking the still-undergoing-repairs Cerberus suit and Cesar with her. But something’s fishy there too, and Danielle struggles to piece it together as she overcomes her own fears.
The previous book in the series, Ex-Purgatory, was a bit of an oddball, with a very different plot and feel than the prior books. With Ex-Isle, Clines is back to the style of his earlier books – a much more straightforward adventure story. It certainly bolstered my feelings toward the book, which I enjoyed much more than its predecessor.
Its best moments stem from Danielle, which was somewhat unexpected. She has never been my favorite character (I prefer Stealth and Barry), but Clines has painted such a realistic, touching picture of her PTSD. It’s been building quietly in the background of the last few books, but here we see it at its climax. It’s debilitating – the others call Danielle out for never leaving her workshop, and even the faintest sound of exes chattering their teeth makes her cringe. She is eminently sympathetic, because which one of us would not be terrified in her shoes? That half of the plot hinges on her overcoming her fears, with the climax forcing her to confront those fears and reach the realization that she is Cerberus, with or without her suit. Clines executes this flawlessly, in my opinion, and I think it’s the best character work he’s done in the series to date.
The other plotline is a little weaker. I cannot understand why in the world Stealth would agree to let Madelyn go on a diplomatic mission, particularly one to a place so isolated. But having Madelyn along does let us learn a lot more about her powers and abilities (at the same time she discovered them). It turns out she can build new memories over time, though she still loses most of the previous day or so, and she can’t be killed – her nanobots will try to piece her back together (resulting in one grotesque but oddly intriguing scene about midway through the book).
St. George and Barry are as entertaining as ever, but the villain, Maleko/Nautilus, is a bit disappointing. He’s fairly one dimensional, without complex motive – he’s primarily there to serve as an “evil bad guy” to St. George’s “heroic good guy.” He’s definitely not the best villain the series has produced, but he’s serviceable.
Like the rest of Clines’ books, this one is a quick, enjoyable read. Is it the best of the series? No, not by a long shot. But it’s better than Ex-Purgatory and a boatload (hah, get it?) of fun – definitely worth your time and money.