Robert Repino’s Morte is a bizarre post-apocalyptic novel, part 1950s Sci-Fi, and part Animal Farm. During the course of the “war with no name” between the humans and the Colony, a race of giant intelligent ants, a chemical is released that mutates animals to human proportions and gives them human intelligence and knowledge. This is the masterstroke in the Ant Queen’s plan. The animals will rise up against their human masters and finish the genocide and slaughter that she had begun. Morte, formerly known as Sebastian, was a housecat turned war-hero, but in truth, all he really wants is to find Sheba, the dog he befriended pre-change.
With intelligent animals, giant ants, and phrases like ” the dreaded human bio-weapon EMSAH,” I was expecting a far more pulpy, tongue-in-cheek novel, and while Repino is clearly aware of the ridiculous of the scenarios, there is an unexpected sense of melancholy depth and social commentary. The post-war world of Ants and Animals victorious, and a handful of human survivors, very much takes its cues from Animal Farm and the descent into infighting and politics.
The writing is crisp and fast-paced. Morte’s single-minded purpose can be occasionally monotonous, and while the early chapters depicting Sebastian and Sheba’s pre-transformation friendship are touching, they don’t hold the weight they require to anchor the main storyline of the novel. Repino has more success with the Ants and their Queen, Hymenoptera Unus, the Monarch of the Underworld. Perhaps it is my love of villains shining through, but there is a nobility and sadness to the Queen and therefore to the Ants. Her genocidal plan is a thousand years in the making, born from rage and regret. She is an ancient creature who has amassed a wealth of information and knowledge, the most powerful being on the planet, a would-be god who is forever lonely and trapped.
Morte is a peculiar war novel starring a bipedal cat in search of his true love, a dog, during the greatest war the world has ever seen. Repino has many things to say about society, about memory, about human and animal relations. Morte was not the novel I was expecting, but it is deeper and ultimately better. The characterizations are not always as strong as they could be, and occasionally the narrative takes itself too seriously, but this is a strong debut. Highly enjoyable.
Morte can be found here on Amazon.
Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review