By: Guy Haley
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Series: Dreaming Cities #1
A thousand years ago America as we know it was consumed by war and a plague that turned humans into zombie-like creatures decimated the population in The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley, the first book in the Dreaming Cities series.
Twelve year old Abney is traveling with his mother to live with a cousin in a faraway town following the death of his stepfather. With their guide dead, they turn to the Knight Quinn, a man they met on the road. Quinn is dead set on protecting the small family from the many dangers along the road – rogue groups from the long ended war, zombie-like people infected with plague, the nearby dragon, and the angels whose territory they need to cross.
The story is told by a much older Abney to an audience, slightly breaking the fourth wall. The audiobook is narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, and bears all of the grit and gravitas it deserves. This added a very realistic feel to the story, making the idea of Abney telling it directly believable in a way that not every first person narrative does. I cannot recommend the audiobook version enough.
World building in this novella is absolutely wonderful. America is broken up into smaller communities that go to war with one another intermittently. Outside of the cities and villages is a decimated wilderness. Ruins of long ago line roads and railroads that are nearly abandoned now. Zombies attack the unwary. And a dragon lies directly in the path, the wrath of an angel wronged embodied and wreaking havoc forevermore.
Characterization and worldbuilding start off a bit slowly, but quickly build steam. The danger of the adventure becomes clearly apparent rather early, and what follows is an action packed adventure through a very dangerous world. While I enjoyed the fight scenes and interpersonal relationships, it was the dystopian setting I found the most intriguing. Religion is what Abney’s mother clings to, what gets her through all of the horrors she’s endured. Yet, it is an Angel’s ravaged territory they must go through, and an Angel’s wrath they must face head-on. The zombie-like plague has also had its effects on society, which are easily seen within the pages.
The relationship between Abney and Quinn was also quiet wonderful to watch grow. Despite some of the harsh realities Abney has faced, he remains rather innocent and feels every bit the twelve-year-old. Quinn is older than he looks, and has seen more than his fair share of hardship and atrocity. Things that are nothing but fairy tales and old stories to Abney are a harsh reality Quinn seems to both want to protect the young man from and prepare him for.
The mix of fantasy, science fiction, and dystopian elements created an immersive setting for a story that truly left me questioning where the story would go next. The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley is the perfect mix of horror and post apocalypse, high fantasy and far future. I cannot wait to read the second book in the Dreaming Cities series, The Ghoul King.