Series: Dreaming Cities #1
Publisher: Tor (April 19, 2016)
Length: 176 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley is a genre blending delight, mixing zombies, dragons, guns, swords, and knights with a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. This mesmerizing recipe serving up something fresh and original, something unique and creative; something all fans of speculative fiction would do well to try, because the future for the Dreaming Cities series certainly appears very bright.
Told from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy, Abney, this tale relays his and his mother’s journey from their zombie destroyed home town to the apparent safety of a cousin’s residence in the town of Winfort. Their path taking them along the Emperor’s railroad to the city of Charleston, Virginia, then on to their destination.
But their route is perilous, as the Kingdom of Virginia has many dangers: the unliving scattered throughout the land; brigands hiding about; city people preying on their fellow human beings; and even a dragon in the northlands. All of this having arisen to plague people since the war between the Angels of the Dreaming Cities of Columbus and Pittsburgh; Virginia’s dead Emperor having taken sides during the conflict before seeing his own ally unleash plague after plague upon his lands. The budding promise of a renewal of lost civilization quickly crushed under the judgment of God’s chosen shepherds for humanity.
With the Angels being to blame for the obstacles in their path, it is thus ironic that the fate of Abney and his mother lies with another creation of these same Angels: Quinn, a Knight of the Dreaming City of Atlantis. This servant of the Angels a gun-totting, sword-wielding relic of the Angelic Wars; his true identity and shadowy motives worth overlooking due to his ability to deal swift death to both zombies and other (more human) predators. Abney’s mother forced to pay a steep asking price in order to secure this “knights” services as their guide and guardian until they reach Winfort.
From this beginning, The Emperor’s Railroad pulls off slowly from the station, loaded down with expectations, but Haley’s locomotive steadily picks up speed. Action-packed scenes, subtle world building, swift characterization, and mesmerizing mysteries propelling this one down the tracks until it is running at a blistering pace by the end. The brakes only applied after an emotional and rousing conclusion to Abney’s story. And as that last page is read, all a reader feels is a deep need, deep desire to know more, more, MORE!
Well, at least, that is how I felt after completing this novella. This narrative the perfect balance of size and story: Short enough not to be a huge time sink, but long enough for Mr. Haley to deliver a satisfying story, which adequately painted this world and the characters as well as setting up the series going forward.
My favorite thing about The Emperor’s Railroad was, without a doubt, the brilliant dystopian setting. Mr. Haley adding in some unique, creative features to this classic post-apocalyptic stage. Foremost of these, the mysterious Angels, who are revered as servants of God, come down from heaven; their divinely appointed task to shepherd over the wayward people of this earth. And while this belief is very quickly established and perfectly espoused by Abney’s mother, Knight Quinn’s innuendos and obvious disdain for his creators perfectly sets up the doubt as to who and what these “Angels” really are, what they are really doing, and why.
The other great feature here was Mr. Haley’s chosen narrator and his delivery style. I personally found an old Abney relating the tale of his long ago journey with a knight the perfect way to convey this tale. It slowly built empathy for the people of this place, revealed the world through the eyes of a child, and introduced our (I’m assuming) main character Quinn without ruining any of his mysterious past and hidden motives. The southern flavor of Abney’s dialect only make it more attractive, since it added an authentic touch to this story of a future Virginia.
Pure fun to read, The Emperor’s Railroad not only entertained me it won me over. I have to admit being fairly hard to please when it comes to post-apocalyptic, dystopian stories, having read so many of them over the course of my life, so I went into my sampling of this work convinced I could not be surprised by anything Mr. Haley threw at me. But I was. This world of angels and zombies, knights and dragons, guns and swords making me sit up and take notice. And, now, all I need is another fix of this fascinating series, because it is very, very addictive.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.