Review: Deadlands by Lily Herne (Penguin SA)

01 Mar

Before I tell you what I thought of the novel, I’d like to point out that Deadlands is available as of today, so it should be on the shelves right across South Africa. 🙂

Deadlands is a tale told from the point of view of Lele, a teenager living in the ruins of a world that has barely survived a zombie outbreak.

Now, zombies are either a hit or a miss – you either dig zombie novels or movies or you don’t – some of my friends think that zombies are lame and wayyy past their sell-by date, but I’m not one of them. I’ve always found the idea of them interesting – what they look look (decayed, dirty, shriveled, etc), the fact that they just love the taste of human flesh, the shambling horror aspect of them, their relentlessness and dumb patience, etc. They’re just damned cool, aren’t they?

Well, Deadlands has cool zombies. 🙂 As I read the book I had flashes of practically every zombie movie I had ever seen – Lily manages to emulate these zombies and also brings something new into the mix, something about the zombies that makes them unique; these weren’t just the kinds of zombies we were used to, they were something different, and honestly, I was hoping for this difference, this departure from the expected. I’m sure that Lily would have been able to pull off the expected zombie, too, but what she did was so much better. 🙂

The world building in the novel was also interesting and damned cool – the novel plays out in the environs of Cape Town, but this Cape Town is buggered; no-one is tanning on the beaches, no-one is enjoying a cocktail in Long Street, and there aren’t any more traffic problems. There are various factions that play up against each other, some doing what they consider to be good, some just surviving from day to day, some thinking very rebellious thoughts; these various factions generate plenty of the conflict in the novel, pushing not only the many characters into difficult positions, but also creating an ever-vibrant background for the various plot-threads to spread out against. I haven’t been to the Cape myself (only as far as George), so I can’t actually speak to the descriptions of the various real-world places that the characters visit, but one of the many things that I digged was the fact that none of the juxtapositions -real-world versus Deadlands- seemed forced. At times it was a bit chilling, thinking about friends of mine who’ve been to Ratanga Junction and imagining them standing in front of the ruins, back-lit and bedraggled as moans of hunger rolled through the air around them. I’m pretty sure that plenty of readers will get a kick, and a chill, out of reading Deadlands and having the new, ravaged landscape that was Cape Town and its surrounds spreading out before their ‘eyes’.

Character-wise, Lele was the star – she’s feisty, opinionated, honest and likable; I found myself becoming more and more interested in her as the tale unfolded -the person she was at the beginning of the tale still has echoes in the person she becomes, but the journeys she embarks on (sometimes unwillingly) really showcase her strength and intelligence (and stubbornness!) and make her the perfect heroine for the tale. 🙂 The rest of the characters -Lele’s step-mother, her father, her adorable brother, the other teenagers she meets, and many others, add a great flavour to the novel – these are people from different backgrounds and upbringings who see their world in many different ways, just as we do, and it was great to have so many personalities shine alongside the major players. 🙂

Action-wise the novel was pretty damned cool – there was movement and sound and weight, and I could tell that a lot of thought was given to choreographing the action. When the zombies appear all hell breaks loose, of course!

The pace of the novel was absolutely relentless when it needed to be and slowed down nicely for the deeper, emotional scenes – this balance was great because I felt that I had a real range of experiences while reading the novel, something very important and that some novels fail to achieve.

Bring everything together and mash it up with a surprising and original take on zombies, along with quite stunning revelations about many of the central characters, and I knew here was a novel that I would remember for a good long while. Deadlands is fun, laugh-out-loud funny in some places, flinch-inducing, utterly original and damned good all the way through – it’s the perfect read for someone looking for something fresh, hectic, dramatic, and Proudly South African and also proves that SFF is alive and kicking here. Along with writers such as Lauren Beukes, Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz, Lily Herne has proven that South African writers are damned good at what they do, and that South African SFF can stand proud with the rest of the world. 🙂

Lily Herne has arrived! 🙂

9 / 10

To get your copy of Deadlands, get to your closest Exclusive Books or order your copies from them online at this link. You can also read an excerpt of Deadlands over at Book SA at this link, and be back here tomorrow for another excerpt, right here on this blog! 🙂



Posted by on March 1, 2011 in Reviews


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8 responses to “Review: Deadlands by Lily Herne (Penguin SA)

  1. Lauren

    March 2, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Sounds good! I lived in Cape Town for most of my life, so I’m keen to check out the zombie-ravaged version in the book. Let’s hope my EB branch is up to speed!

  2. Kahlan

    March 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Dave-Brendon of the many smilies, I enjoyed your review and I’ll be buying this one soon. I do love a good zombie story and it being set in SA is a plus.

    • Dave-Brendon de Burgh

      March 2, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      Hehehe yep that’s me, hope you enjoy it! 🙂 Have you read The Dog-Faced Gods yet? Thoughts?

  3. Rachel Morgan

    March 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Woohooo! Proudly South African fiction! I need to go get this book….
    Do you know of any other Young Adult/Fantasy/Sci Fi/Dystopian fiction set in South Africa?


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