★★★★★ Butcher Rising is the second novel in Brandon Zenner’s The After War series, serving as a standalone tale and a continuation of ex-convict Karl Metzger’s travels through a post-apocalyptic hellscape. This is the story of what happens after the end of the world, when there’s no one left to keep evil in check, and the vilest dregs of humanity are allowed to drain out of all the jails and prisons scattered across the country. In the wake of total societal collapse, Metzger and his minions, known as the Red Hands, journey what’s left of the United States in search of resources to steal. The Red Hands are certainly a force to be reckoned with, but Metzger’s hubris threatens to land his troops in a bind that’s too tight for them to slip free. After all, in a world without enemies, a person’s liable to be their own downfall.
Zenner’s work is gritty, gory, and uncomfortably reflective of our species’ inner darkness. Shows like The Walking Dead have shown how easily we fall prey to our most basic desires, when the supporting framework that keeps us behaving as good citizens should begins to fall down around us. But in Butcher Rising, the truest monsters are the ones we become when nobody’s left to look over our shoulders. Make no mistake—Metzger is not a redeemable character, and readers will not be able to root for him. Yet, in some twisted way, they will come to understand a bit of the madness that makes him tick. This is a book that is bound to leave you speechless.