I will keep this review short, for two reasons. First, having read Mort(e), I have earned the right to minimize further time spent on it. Second, having been spared Morte(e), you deserve the opportunity to escape unscathed.
Yes, this is that most dreaded of book blog posts: a negative review. Whatever I may have previously said in regards to negative reviews, to whatever conclusions we may have come, you know that I don’t engage in negative reviews lightly. I try to look for good qualities even in books I don’t much like. It says something about Mort(e) that I feel like no other option is available to me.
The premise, I thought, was promising: animals are engaged in a war against humans. Mort(e) (pet name “Sebastian”) is an animal agent, working to undermine human resistance. In my mind’s eye, I imagined a feline padding around the house, pulling pranks on its owners. I was…wrong, to put it mildly. The animals, raised to consciousness and bipedal locomotion via a chemical agent produced by the ant queen bent on humanity’s destruction, wage a genocidal war against their former human masters. This has all the subtlety of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The original 1980s cartoon series.
The tone is unceasingly cheerless. Repino trots the reader from one grim scene to another, without respite. Even when the war is “over,” the ugliness continues, as animal communities succumb to a mysterious disease, EMSAH, and human guerillas (ha!) wage a holy war against the victorious animals. Mort(e) is a caricature of a protagonist from a Hollywood thriller, single minded in his pursuit of his lost friend, Sheba. “Just remember,” Mort(e) says, “Maybe these guys are nice, and the ants are mean. But that doesn’t mean their fairy tales are true.”
Repino’s main concern is the irrationality both of religion and of attempts to overthrow it. Humanity, increasingly desperate as it nears extinction, resorts to ever more grandiose expectations of messianic salvation. Nor are the animals free of faith. Infected by a virus unleashed by vengeful humans, animal communities succumb to religious madness, culminating in suicide. But even the ant queen, who seeks to replace humankind, in the process becoming “a god,” is a victim to faith. “Love is stronger than God,” Mort(e) concludes, a sentiment that, here, rings hollow, coming as it does from someone who admittedly took pleasure in killing people.
Ultimately, Mort(e) is an interesting concept that, laden as it is with limp prose, indifferent characters, and unrelenting grimness, falls flat. That said, I encourage readers to seek out more reviews before writing Mort(e) off. I, for one, cannot recommend this book.