The Emperor’s Railroad
by Guy Haley
read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Macmillan Audio / Tor
UPDATE: The previous version of this review was based on a copy where there were parts of the audio book missing from the recording. The whole fight with the [SPOILERS] dragon was MIA. [END SPOILERS] It turns out there was a glitch in the audio book format causing a large, important portion to be cut out. If you are missing the fight then delete and redownload your Audible book to fix. Trust me, this new (full) version makes a huge difference in the story and enjoyment thereof.
Without giving too much away, [BUT SPOILERS ARE POSSIBLE] this story starts out with Abney, our narrator, and his mother on the road fleeing their home city, which was overrun by the dead (zombies, but slightly different.) Their wagon hit a pothole, broke an axle and their driver, a postman, has broken his neck and passed away. Into this dire predicament rides Quinn, a knight of the “dreaming city of Atlantis.” Quinn agrees to take the two survivors to a settlement north of Charleston in the Kingdom of Virginia.
Along the way we run into a few zombies, a railroad with carts that are driven by teams of animals rather than steam, and a town with hydro-electricity. [CLEAR SPOILERS] At the end there is a battle with the dragon – who is the physical embodiment of punishment by the “angels.” We are left with a lot of questions in the end.
Where is Atlantis? What are “Angels?” What exactly is the dragon? How do the Angels control the dead and the dragons? Why are there knights with swords when guns exist? Very little is answered here. And in fact, this novella is one of two (later in 2016) intended, it seems, to whet the appetite of this new fantasy world centered on the exploits of Quinn. Like an old fashioned Western film, the hero rides off at the end, but unlike a Western, there is clearly more to this story. [END SPOILERS]
When I read the description of a post-apocalyptic world with zombies, angels, dragons and knights I was intrigued. It’s more than that though. It’s methodical, slow paced and at worst times prodding and at best wistful. We don’t know much about what happens prior to or after this story, but we get an interesting primer into what to expect going forward. As Abney says in his final words, “I know that out there Quinn carried on his search. What was he looking for? I don’t know. It bothered me for years that I never found out. I guess I made my peace with that. Maybe he found ’em. Maybe he didn’t. Whatever fortune did to Quinn, wherever he went and why I’m sure as the good lord is enthroned in Heaven that someone, somewhere knows what happened to Quinn next… if you find out, stop by my grave and whisper it to the earth when you come home. It will be much appreciated.”
Note about the reader (audio book version): Reynolds does an outstanding job on his Virginia drawl and slow, methodical narration. The complexity of his gravelly and at times gentile voice worked really well as the voice of an older Abney. Very easy to listen to.
Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.