used to be called Sebastian. He was a satisfied house cat who lived with a
young family and proudly kept guard on their home. But then the family fell
apart when the new neighbour arrived and began an affair with Sebastian’s female
owner. The new neighbour had a dog – Sheba – who quickly became Sebastian’s
best friend and cuddling companion, despite the fact that cats and dogs don’t
speak the same language. When Sebastian’s male owner discovers his wife’s
infidelity, there is violence. Sheba runs away into the night. Little does
Sebastian know, this is only the beginning.
A war has been raging behind-the-scenes.
Sebastian has watched it on the TV news without understanding what is
happening. The ants have turned on humanity. Over the course of centuries, they
have grown huge and are now rampaging across the world, the size of cars,
killing all the humans they can find. The ants have recruited all the other
species to help them and have found a way to transform surface animals into
intelligent bipeds who are now picking up weapons and slaughtering their
When Sebastian wakes up to find himself
changed, able to stand on his hind legs and talk and reason like a human, he
turns on his owner and begins the long journey to find Sheba. He reluctantly
joins an army of cat vigilantes called the Red Sphinx and discovers that
human-kind has unleashed a biological weapon called EMSAH which is destroying
animals in all kinds of disgustingly painful ways. He becomes a soldier and
then a war hero (earning the right to name himself, so he changes his moniker
to Mort(e)), while the Queen of the Ants becomes God and the animal’s revolt
turns more and more into a Jihad, with their feverous blood lust making them
little better than the humans they are supplanting. This isn’t just a
post-apocalyptic fable about the search for a friend, this is a story about
genocide, religious fanaticism, and how quickly and insidiously we humans might
lose control of our planet. Those are all big subjects, and author Robert
Repino is only marginally successful at juggling them.
As a concept, Mort(e) is well put together.
Although an end-of-the-world landscape populated by walking, talking warrior
animals with a main character that has a distinctly ‘lone samurai’ flavour about
him isn’t exactly an original idea, it’s definitely a good one. And everyone
loves a cool giant ants story so it isn’t the set-up that’s the problem here.
The main weakness lies in the writing, which has its moments but too often
feels like a banal and unrelentingly grim first draft loaded with
not-as-smart-as-it-thinks-it-is ‘movie of the week’ dialogue and shallow
characterisations. For example, Mort(e) is much more interesting at the start
of the book when he is just Sebastian, the house cat who enjoys hanging out in
the attic, than he is after his transformation when he sets out into the world like
some kind of wishy-washy feline Mad Max. What’s worse, many of the incidental
characters are more charismatic than Mort(e) is, which is definitely a no-no.
Luckily for Mort(e) – but sadly for us – those characters usually don’t survive
Still, it’s not all bad: ‘Mort(e)’ has made
me think twice about being nicer to ants, and consider how cats and firearms
might not make for the best combination. No other book I’ve read this year has
made me do that.
MORT(E) / AUTHOR: ROBERT REPINO /
PUBLISHER: SOHO PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW