Book Review: Battle for the Wastelands

12 Sep

Battle for the Wastelands

-Matthew W. Quinn

Battle for the Wastelands is a curious mixture of genres that holds together surprisingly well.  It is set in what is probably a post-nuclear war (or other disaster) America, with flavourings of brutal horror, political intrigue, steampunk, wild west-style action and  a desperate fight against a tyrant.  This has the weakness of being confusing, at least at first; I assumed the story was set on a colony world rather than a post-nuclear Earth. 

There are essentially two threads running through the story.  The first follows Andrew Sutter, a young man from a wild west town, who finds his town being taxed to death by the Flesh-Eating Legion.  Things spread out of control, leading to a doomed battle that destroys the town and leaves Andrew on the run.  For better or worse, he finds himself saved by the rebel forces and winds up fighting for them.  His thread leads to the first major victory against the Flesh-Eaters.

The second thread follows Grendel, the leader of a band of tribes that includes the Flesh-Eaters.  Grendel is a warlord with many other warlords under his thumb, as well as a brood of growing (and eager) children and a harem of ambitious women.  His lands are starting to fracture under the stresses of peace, leading him to plan a war against distant foes in hopes of keeping his realm together; he is unaware, even as he prepares his forces, that he is on the verge of facing a whole uprising.

On a personal level, the two main characters are fascinating.  Andrew is a forthright young man, brave and daring; learning, steadily, how to become a leader of men.  Grendel is a born manipulator, carefully managing his subordinates to keep them from banding together or falling out to the point they clash into civil war.  In many ways, Grendel is the more interesting character.  He’s a genuine empire-builder, planning to leave a united realm to his son … and steering his son’s development so the son is ready to inherit.  It’s easy to lose track of the fact Grendel is also a monster, commanding legions of rapist cannibals who are steadily squeezing the land dry. 

The world building is also fascinating.  Grendel and his troops deploy zeppelins as well as ‘old world’ tech, the latter forbidden to everyone else on pain of complete and total destruction.  It’s a fun little world, although Quinn never loses sight of the price.  There’s a very clear sense that the population is just hanging on, that the latest empire is going to vanish with its leader.  There’s also a sense that, as the kids grow older, the empire might plunge into civil war.  It reminds me of how Henry II built an empire, the greatest the post-Roman world had seen, only to lose it to disputes between his sons Henry the Young King, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. 

The book’s only real flaw is that it seems a little condensed.  It could have done with more development and more sense of a complete story, even one that didn’t resolve the overall story arc.  But that’s a very minor matter indeed.

Purchase from Amazon: US, UK, AUS, CAN

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