This is one of the my most favourite duologies in existence. It’s dark, it’s gritty, with an unapologetically uncaring MC, and it’s everything I could have ever wanted in a story. It has two MC’s who hate each other, but can’t resist each other, a dog that talks, a robot that fills me with the feels, and a two-story series that I come back to re-read every year. Without fail. I have the paperbacks, because I absolutely love the illustrations provided by Blake Dorner.
Book One: Withered & Sere
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.
Book Two: Crisped & Sere
In a world ravaged by fire and descending into madness, Cavalo has been given an ultimatum by the dark man known as Patrick: return Lucas to him and the cannibalistic Dead Rabbits, or the town of Cottonwood and its inhabitants will be destroyed.
But Lucas has a secret embedded into his skin that promises to forever alter the shape of things to come—a secret that Cavalo must decide if it’s worth dying over, even as he wrestles with his own growing attraction to the muted psychopath.
Cavalo has twenty-one days to prepare for war. Twenty-one days to hold what is left of his shredded sanity together. Twenty-one days to convince the people of Cottonwood to rise up and fight back. Twenty-one days to unravel the meaning behind the marks that cover Lucas.
A meaning that leads to a single word and a place of unimaginable power: Dworshak.
When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, over two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder, wondering why he has to go to work as a claims examiner for an insurance company during the day when he could just stay home and write.
Since being published, TJ has won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance, fought off three lions that threatened to attack him and his village, and was chosen by Amazon as having written one of the best GLBT books of 2011.
And one of those things isn’t true.
(It’s the lion thing. The lion thing isn’t true.)
Book One: Withered & Sere
Book – Withered + Sere
Author – T.J. Klune
Star rating – ★★★★★
No. of Pages – 280
Cover – Gorgeous!
POV – 3rd person, 1 MC
Would I read it again – Yes.
Genre – Apocalyptic, Alternative Future/History, a dash of Steampunk and a dash of LGBT
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
WARNING: cannibalism, rape – both mentioned very briefly and not in detail.
This is my first T.J. Klune book and it wasn’t what I was expecting. As a post-apocalypse novel, it was truly fantastic. This isn’t your usual pandemic/zombie end of the world story. In fact, it doesn’t really include either of those aspects. Though, certainly, there is cannibalism and sickness caused by radiation, but those are after-effects of the apocalypse. As a gay romance novel, it’s still good. I mean, there’s not much romance to speak of, but the relationship that forms between Cavalo and the others in the book – most importantly Bad Dog, SIRS and Luca – are truly phenomenal. You feel the friendship, comradery, the slow burn romance all so brilliantly.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about the actual plot without giving away spoilers. I’ll tell you this, though – it begins with a present day-ish world. It’s a vague 3rd person POV (in which there are no names, only nameless faces). It’s about what happens after the world ends. Duh. You knew that from the blurb. Oh, and there’s a super super slow burn romance.
Anything else I can say? Well, there are a few instances where we’re told about events that will be later reflected upon or happen in the future. It’s not often enough to get annoying, but it’s just enough to let you know stuff is going to happen and you had better be prepared for it.
As for everything else, the writing was great, the world was fantastically build and with a lot of attention to detail, the characters were all relatable in their own way and somewhat familiar. This may not have been the author’s intention, but I definitely saw a little of Sherlock Holmes in the analysis of potential fight moves (the Robert Downey Jnr one, of course). And, there was a distinct hint of crazy about SIRS that totally reminded me of Ben from Treasure Planet. None of that is bad. These characters were still unique, the advance thought process of the fight scenes still rang true to the character. All of this is good stuff. A little bit of something familiar or recognisable in a novel like this is never a bad thing.
When it comes to romance, there is no explicit on page sex. Ever. There are two brief mentions of MF sex and no MM at all. This works! Trust me. The first physical MM stuff happens at the 84% mark and it’s appropriate.
Overall, this is an incredible storytelling novel about what would happen if and when the world ends for whatever reason. It’s about survival instincts, looking inside yourself, insanity and fighting for what you believe in. It’s about bees, Dead Rabbits, SIRS and a Bad Dog. And, no, I’m not crazy.
Read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Book Two: Crisped & Sere
Book – Crisped & Sere (Immemorial Year #2)
Author – T.J. Klune
Star rating – ★★★★★
No. of Pages – 340
Cover – Brilliant!
POV – 3rd person, 1 character
Would I read it again – Yes!!!!
Genre – LGBT, Apocalypse, Science Fiction, Adventure
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY DSP PUBLICATIONS, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
It is very rare that a first book in a series is followed by a story that is even better. It’s even more rare that a robot can make me blubber like a baby and mean just as much to me as a human character. However, Crisped & Sere managed to do both these things. Eclipsing the brilliance of Withered & Sere, Crisped & Sere is a roller coaster ride of conflicting emotions; rage, love, joy, burning fire and stunned silence.
The fact that this story picked up right after the events of book 1 was made all the better because I decided to re-read book 1 before delving into this, to make sure I remembered all the little important details. This was a great bonus, re-submerging myself into the story and the characters, but you could easily read book 2 after months or a year of reading book 1 and never be confused. Though nothing is re-hashed in detail, thankfully, you’re left with the same essence and flow that I loved so much in book 1. Not only that, but there are little things that jog your memory, without going overboard.
With a returning cast from book 1, it was a delight to meet some new characters and explore their role in Cavalo’s journey. Though I don’t want to give any spoilers away, I will say that I was pleasantly shocked and surprised by the secrets some characters from book 1 were keeping and the way the author let the truth trickle out in that tantalizingly brilliant way of theirs.
Another great thing about reading book 1 immediately before delving into this was that a second read allowed me to notice more easily that SIRS’s moments of insanity were really nothing of the sort. I always had a good giggle at his ridiculousness when I first read book 1, but this time around and, more evidently in book 2, I was able to see the sense and logic of what he was belting out in his moments of insanity. Even when no one realised it, SIRS knew so much more than he let on, as he so aptly put it in book 1:
“It has taken losing my mind to find my soul.”
The revelations that came about Lucas, the Dead Rabbit, blew me off my feet even though I’d suspected such a thing in my wilder moments of speculation. The way his character evolved and brought a whole new element to Cavalo’s insanity was both charming and wonderful. To see these two crazy people finding their sanity within each other – escaping the bees – even if just for a moment, was beautiful. As was the ever growing and building romance that blossomed between them. Not to mention the hot sex.
For me, the bees are practically a character of their own. From Warren to Jaime, their presence added some mystery and a supernatural element to Cavalo’s experiences. There can be no doubt that some “higher power”, even if it is only the bees swarming inside Cavalo’s insanity, led Cavalo to his destiny. And, in the following books, will very likely lead him to his future.
The world building and plot exploration is second to none. Though Immemorial Year is my first foray into T.J. Klune’s genius, I had already decided by the end of book 1 that they had become an auto-buy author and someone I would never hesitate to pick up, when I needed a good read. Crisped & Sere has just catapulted that love astronomically. It’s been a long time since I was so encapsulated by a series and the characters involved that I read every space second I could, rather than waiting for the next convenient time that I could binge read for an entire day. There was no waiting here. There was no chance of it. I had to know what was happening, I had to read more, even if I only had a spare five minutes to read a few pages. Waiting was torture.
Down sides? It was an ARC, so there were the expected pre-edit issues of missing words, spelling mistakes and such. But, to be quite honest, I stumbled over them neatly, always able to make sense of what was happening or being said, without them. They were non important and I know, for sure, that they’ll be corrected in the final proof.
Overall, the genius of this series will stay with me for a long time. Each time a new book comes out, you know I’ll be grabbing my copies of the previous ones to binge read them in order. Not because it’s needed or because I’ve forgotten anything, but just because it’s so much more fun to revisit Cavalo and Lucas time and time again, reliving their ‘moments’, reliving the heat, the fire and the insanity.
And you can be damned sure that though this is the first time I’ve cried over a robot, I doubt T.J. Klune will let it be the last. And, strangely enough, I’m okay with that.
As long as they keep writing books, I’ll keep reading them. And that “holy shit!” ending? Well, I’ll be first in line to buy books 3 and 4 (and any more they want to write) in this series. Because the minute I read that last little paragraph, from the author, you know I was practically sobbing in relief.
I practically highlighted the entire book, but I will share my favourites, because they’re the ones that will stay with me the longest:
““You okay?” he asked Bad Dog as he turned in circles before laying down on the blanket.
Head hurts, he said. He looked at Cavalo with big eyes. Some jerky would help.
“I don’t know if we have any jerky.”
There’s a whole bag in your pack. I can smell it.
“Can you? You must be feeling better, then.”
I can barely smell it, Bad Dog corrected. He whined and lay his head down on his paws. Getting…dark. Must have…rabbit jerky.”
“His heart was dark. He had murder in his eyes and death on his lips.”
“He was my son, and he died fighting for something good. I am going to go home and stand upon his grave, and I will rant. I will rave. I will suffer. But I will know why it happened. And one day, I will be able to remember him with nothing but an ache and a smile.”
“AND I WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR FRIEND”