Review: Withered + Sere, by TJ Klune


cover-tjklune-witheredsereOnce 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.

Illustrated by Blake Dorner.


Dates read:
Edition read:
April 19, 2016
DSP Publications
Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, M/M, Bisexual,GLBT+
327 e-book pages
3rd person
Immemorial Year #1, book 1
April 22-23, 2016
Kindle Edition
See the book on GoodReads.

Rating:     ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Ratings are 1 to 5 stars and based mostly on GoodReads standards.
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Ummm…yikes? Kind of? I don’t really know.

This is certainly a departure for Mr. Klune from his other work. I’ll tell ya that.

It’s weeeeird. It’s dark. It’s twisted as all fuck.

It’s like….

Like if batshit crazy met a beat poet.

It’s like fugue poetry under water.

What the fuck am even I talking about?

I don’t know!

I’m in a state of something.

Soo….the way this goes, the world as we know it has ended by the folly and hatred in the hands of mankind. We’re clawing our way through the After, the dystopian wilds where only a thread of humanity remains. We’re scrabbling for it, just out of reach, and everyone is sort of insane. Maybe because the water might not be entirely safe to drink and everything is still a bit radioactive a hundred years later.

Cavalo, first, last, or maybe his only name is a loner. Mostly. He’s got voices in his head of those who’ve died. He’s haunted. Deeply and completely. His only true companions are his dog and a degenerate robot. He talks to both. They…erm…talk back.

Then comes more crazy as he pairs up, unexpectedly and unwisely, with Lucas. A mute, psychotic cannibal who’s irreparably bound to a gang called the Dead Rabbits. Yep, you read that right. Of course, I never thought I’d have cause to string those words together. He’s deranged as all fuck too. And suuuuper dangerous. They seem to reach some sort of detente, but I’m not sure it can be trusted. Either of them could kill the other on a whim. I think only one of them would take immense glee in the deed.

This book is not only a departure for our dear TJ; it’s a HUGE departure for me too. Massive. Like, if I didn’t already love or like most of the other stuff this guy has written I don’t know that I would have dared with this. It took me out of my comfort zone in a huge way.

I’ve said some pretty random shit before about TJs writing in the past — I’ve called it rhythmic and poetic and that I can feel a pulse in his words. I found that here, too. If I hadn’t, I’d wonder who in the fuck had possessed him and what’s the hotline number for a dependable exorcist.

There is that familiar pulse here, in the dark place he takes us in this book. It’s…well, it gave me just enough comfort to let me know that I’d survive, for now, and live to tell the tale no matter how senseless my words. And that when I finished reading and pondering what I read I’d have to go on a frantic hunt for a book that would deliver me back to happy. Or go do laundry or something. (Except laundry doesn’t make me happy.)

There were some other weird things about this book. I mean, in addition to the whole thing, obviously.

Firstly, it’s noted as 327 Kindle pages. That’s kinda long…not for TJ, really, just long in general compared to most authors these days. But…it went by FAST. Like, at one point I noted I was at 30-something percent, and then it couldn’t have been much later, and I was at 90-something percent reading the Afterword. So I think there might just be some sort of time-bending hex cast upon this book. I didn’t skip pages…I know I didn’t. I was nearly obsessed with every word.

Then, well, this is a bit of a niggle. The voice of Bad Dog, the dog, didn’t always do it for me. He sometimes sounded like the Kid in TJ’s BOATK series. I’ve always put voices to my dogs. Maybe I’m weird, but I think others do this too. So I got that…it’s just the voice felt off for me at times. In my head, most dogs sound childlike, so that wasn’t it. Just…off in some way I can’t put my finger on other than it felt way too familiar in tone when I expected something completely different.

A side note: This is not romance. There’s not one single romantic element in this book. A little speck of lust, but not romance. It’s stark, dark, and violent. There are crumbs of humanity. A teasing taste of kindness. This is a bleak magnified look at the insanity within destruction, chaos, and survival that ends on a big ol’ cliffhanger with nothing but questions and a desperate, longing need for answers.

So…how to sum up…I don’t know. Go for it? Read this. Just, brace. This is unlike anything I’ve ever read (mainly because I choose not to as a general rule). But. I think there’s hope…somewhere in here. Maybe. Maybe book two will rain with hope and happy. I’m almost sure, as the reluctant optimist I am, that TJ has something up his clever sleeve that will deliver us from this cold, buzzing insanity.

Oh! Crap, almost forgot. There are some gorgeous illustrations scattered throughout by artist Blake Dorner. They were exceptional renderings of the scenes taking place. And, not sure I should admit it but whatever, they also told me my imagination can easily go to these violent places, and I could see the scenes laid out exactly as described in the text as they were in my head. I’m not sure how I feel about that…but the artwork was like little interspersed gifts that gave me a bit of a break from reading darkness to looking at it in stark relief. Not sure if that’s any better, but they were wicked cool, nonetheless.

Also, included at the back of the book is an Exclusive Excerpt of book of the series, Crisped + Sere. I couldn’t go there. Forced myself to stop. I kind of wanted that taste, but I generally stay away from teasers as a rule.

I can be patient.

Kind of.

This review also posted on GoodReads.

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