(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to The Power Of Thy Sword, by Manowar (Spotify, YouTube).
There are to fantasy literature subgenres that I usually try to avoid: zombies and post-apocalyptic stories. I know that it is a gross generalization, but my impression is the tropes in those kinds of stories are very rigid and leave very little space for innovation and originality. Also, I don't really care for the idea of living dead or destroyed civilizations in the first place.
Imagine, then, my dilemma when I learned that The Emperor's Railroad, by Guy Haley, one of the most recent novellas published by Tor.com features both zombies and a post-apocalyptic world. "Should I read it?", I thought. "The synopsis does not appeal to me. But it is Tor.com, man. Tor.com! They have surprised you in the past with stories you believed were not up your alley. And the cover is freaking awesome too... What to do?"
Obviously, since you are reading my review, I finally decided to give it a try, especially because the time investment with novellas is relatively low. And I am glad that I did, although I must say that I did not like it as much as other Tor.com stories I've reviewed recently.
In fact, I confess that reading The Emperor's Railroad took me longer than I expected. I had some unexpected problems that week, that's true, but the first part of the novella did not interest me much. I did like the tone, with a well-chosen first-person narrator, but the plot was more or less along the lines I feared it would be: people wandering in destroyed cities, zombie attacks, lots of walking from one place to another...
Fortunately, the last third of the novella is much, much better. In addition to the zombies, suddenly we get to see some unexpected things: a dragon, for instance. And all the strange mentions of angels and knights become to make much more sense. And there is an awesome sword fight. In those last chapters, The Emperor's Railroad becomes something new, something different and, even better, makes the reader think to try and work out how all those seemingly extraneous elements fit in this apocalyptic world.
All in all, this is a novella that I cannot say in justice that I completely enjoyed, but that I am glad that I read for it promises some very interesting developments in the next instalments of the series. In fact, I've already got an ARC of The Ghoul King and I plan to read it as soon as possible, for I need to know how Haley is going to tie things up. Color me intrigued.