The Emperor’s Railroad is the first in a series of novellas by Guy Haley and Tor.com. The novella is the story of Quinn, a knight in the post-apocalyptic United States (specifically the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia region) after war and disease destroyed much of the living, turning them into bloodthirsty undead.
The tale is told through the eyes of an aged man named Abney who is recounting the short time he spent with Quinn in his childhood. Quinn encounters Abney and his mother after their wagon breaks down along the road. Abney’s mother pays Quinn to escort them safely to her cousin’s house many miles away. The journey poses many dangers, and along the way, the threat of the undead, sinister men and a dragon will stand in the way of their refuge.
Quinn is not a knight in the tradition you or I usually attribute that word to. He carries two swords and a gun and specializes in fighting the undead. He wears no sigil, but originally was a creation of the Angels, the mysterious forces that supposedly began the apocalypse with their warring and who continue to be the primary force of malcontent in the novella. Quinn is also somewhat of a mystery, and much of his past is shrouded for much of the story and looks to be a major thread through the series.
Religion plays a primary role in this novel. The people of this novella believe that these beings called Angels have come and destroyed the world and continue to do so because of the Lord’s judgment. The consensus from most people in this setting is that everyone who dies is deserving of it and no one is worthy of living. Everyone obeys these Angels and shout blasphemy to those who would speak against them. This made the story interesting as Abney, the storyteller, has very strong beliefs about the Angels and Quinn, who serves them, has his different opinions. I haven’t read a fantasy story where religion is so intertwined with the setting, and I found it to be absorbing once I grasped all the moving parts.
My only drawback to this novel is the choice the author made with the POV character. Abney says somewhere towards the beginning that he is not very well educated. His narrative reflects this. The wording of his sentences and the way he describes things at a few moments detracted from the story for me. A few times I had to remind myself that he was uneducated and that the novella’s editor didn’t simply miss a spot. The POV from Abney’s perspective was a fine way to tell the story. However, it was just the POV’s wording that sometimes distracted me.
The novellas of the new Tor.com imprint continue to impress me. Even though I’m normally not into reading about the undead, Guy Haley presented a horrifying look at a United States fantasy future. The story was well spun in the limited spaces of the novella format, and I was highly satisfied by the end. My grievance about the POV character was slight when considering the overall picture. This will go down as one of my favorite reads of the year.
About the Author:
Previously a science fiction journalist and editor, Guy finds making his own strange worlds up even more fun than writing about those created by other people.
You can find hundreds of reviews, interviews, opinion pieces, free pieces of fiction and more on Guy’s blog.