The time and place
The American southwest (inferring by the mention of Gila monsters), 2147 CE.
The suspension of disbelief
An asteroid hit Earth and darkened the sky back in 2083. This bore several alien viruses humans fell prey to, becoming revenants. The wargs (werebeasts) came from the US government mucking around with human test subjects, so it seems the world had already gone to pot. Sixty years later, reivers (raiders) and shadow-cats have joined the dangers prowling the Burned Lands. Humans live in fortified settlements, trying to weather whatever the world throws at them.
The quick summary
Lucius Wade, motivated by vengeance, kidnaps a damsel in the Wasteland. He believes taking someone from a settlement near Adam McClain’s will draw his old rival out. Not-really-a-damsel Riley Kincaid wants to keep her village safe from reivers and wargs, and is out a little too late getting rocs for food. Wade takes Riley to an abandoned testing facility for temporary holding. While he’s out, reivers attack. Seems Wade’s made some dangerous enemies, so Riley strikes a deal with him: if he helps her recover the boy the reivers have taken hostage, she’ll get McClain to come to him. McClain has long wanted Riley to shack up with him. Plans go awry, though, and Riley and Lucius become involved. Do they have a future together, and can they save one of the most important people in his life from his biggest nightmare?
I love the Mad Max-like setting. McMaster sets the story in America when her native Australia would have also provided plenty of excellent beasties, but the Southwest desert can be pretty breathtaking in a barren sort of way. It’s got some sufficiently-advanced technology that reminds me of paranormal elements, but the jeeps and bikes appeal to my SFR tastes. Gene testing creates fantastic creatures, and the reivers add an outlaw element to show us that it’s not just obvious monsters out for innocent blood.
Riley has both a soft heart and a strong will. She’s resourceful and caring. She’s very lonely, though, and that intertwines with her attraction to Wade. Wade was a bit harder to like, but he has complex and believable experiences, motivations, and feelings. When he finds that some the beliefs that kept him going aren’t true, he understandably loses his cool and complicates an already delicate situation at McClain’s settlement. Once he opens himself up, it’s easy to see why Riley thinks he’s worth spending her future with.
The action scenes flow well and are believable given the characters’ skills and wits. McMaster’s writing is crisp and evocative. I felt uncertainty, sorrow, and longing along with the protagonists.
The original kidnapping plot didn’t feel the strongest to me. Wade kidnaps Riley to use as bait for Adam McClain. What exactly was Riley’s value? Wade had hoped for a person from McClain’s settlement and thought to appeal to his honor? The deal they strike later makes more sense.
Several of the side characters seemed important, but didn’t get much attention, and are probably introduced for later books. Sometimes the pacing felt a bit uneven, but I can’t put my finger on why.
I’ve a little quibble with the timeline and technology offered: I’d put the darkening further in the future to make McClain’s old-fashioned ideas about society (and the technology available) be easier to believe.
Read if you
- are an action romance fan
- like your characters a little bit bad
- enjoy zombies and other post-apocalyptic stories
Skip if you
- are burnt out on post-apocalyptic stories
- don’t like paranormal elements
- are in the mood for something sweet and light
I’m a long time fan of McMaster’s London Steampunk stories, and am so happy she has started two new series this year. The Burned Lands is a very original setting, and her further books will be auto-buys for me. I hope this somehow gets picked up by libraries.
Author site: Bec McMaster