Sawbones was a book that caught my eye the moment I saw it, because HELLO! Western setting? An independent, determined woman doctor as its protagonist? Only problem was, its genre was straight-up historical fiction without even the ittiest bittiest hint of a speculative element, and I was already being crushed under the weight of review books that I’ve committed myself to on behalf of my Sci-fi & Fantasy book blog. Reluctantly, I decided to give Sawbones a pass at the time, and probably wouldn’t have thought about it again if it weren’t for a strong recommendation I received weeks later, from someone whose bookish opinions I highly respect. Now I’m on the other side of reading it to say how utterly thankful and glad I am to have given this one a try after all, because it was damn brilliant and I absolutely loved it!
The book’s blurb likens the story to “Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest” which is a comparison I find both very appropriate and also a little misleading. Like I said, Sawbones is completely devoid of any magic or sci-fi, time traveling or otherwise, but that said, I believe it would indeed appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon’s series who might be looking for a similar blend of romance and adventure set in a very harsh time and place, whose brutal realities we are not spared from at all. It is especially hard for our protagonist Dr. Catherine Bennett, a New York woman practicing medicine in the 1870s in spite of those who regard her profession as scandalous and highly unseemly for someone of her sex.
That is why when Catherine is falsely accused of murder, she finds little support in her societal circles and is forced to go on the run with a $500 bounty on her head. And for anyone looking to start a new life or to disappear, the answer lies west. With her loyal maid Maureen in tow, Catherine escapes to Texas and joins the Warren wagon train under the new identity of Dr. Laura Elliston. Even though female doctors are rare enough to draw attention, Catherine—now Laura—loves her work too much to give it up, and hopes to start fresh with her own practice out in the uncharted territories of Colorado where no one will know her face.
But of course, things don’t go as planned. Those who already know what became of the Warren wagon train can probably guess, but if not, I’m not going to spoil the details of the plot’s early bombshell. I think up until this point, I was still expecting a whole different kind of book, but afterwards it finally hit me what I was really in for. Suffice to say, if you’re like me and picked this one up thinking it would be your typical lighthearted historical romance, you’re going to be in for a huge surprise. To tell the truth, the first 20% of the novel didn’t impress me overly much, but when things took a graphically violent, traumatic, and heart-wrenching turn for our protagonist, that was the moment I realized the kind of story author Melissa Lenhardt has set out to tell, and she’s not pulling any punches. This book had my full attention after that.
The first thing you should know about Sawbones is the merciless, no holds barred portrayal of life on the frontier. Lenhardt confesses to taking a few minor liberties with history in order to make the story work, but a lot of the people, places and events in this book were real. Much research and effort was clearly put in to bring the setting and historical era to life in all its harshness. Racism was rampant. Women had very little say about anything, even when it came to their own business. Settlers in this part of the country were frequently raided by native tribes and white bandits alike. People were raped, killed, mutilated, abducted and abused in the worst of ways. The injured often did not survive, succumbing to infection, bad weather, poor nutrition, or any number of factors that could doom you. This book does not gloss over any of those gory, gut-twisting details.
The second thing you should know is that the characters are amazing. Told from Laura’s point of view, readers are accorded a real treat going deep into the mind of an unconventional protagonist who has followed her heart and given up so much to keep pursuing a dream. Her personal growth as a character follows a riveting arc made even more complex by the subtler themes, which come full circle by the end of the book when Laura is forced to acknowledge that life is not so clear-cut in the isolated wilderness of the west. As a doctor, her principle tenet is to save lives and do no harm, but when push comes to shove, she is also capable of making the difficult choices. Even in her stubbornness, she is likeable and relatable, and I wanted to see her succeed.
There’s also a fantastic love story, featuring a forbidden romance that is at once passionate and convincing. From the moment Laura saves the life of Captain William Kindle, they set off an undeniable chemistry. I enjoyed their sweet interactions and the well-written dialogue between them, making it easy to get on board with their blossoming relationship. Kindle himself is a dedicated and honorable soldier, good to his men and kind to Laura, so I’m glad that the romantic interest in this novel ended up being someone worthy of our protagonist’s devotion and respect.
It was this mix of loveliness with the book’s vicious, ruthless side that made Sawbones so compelling. I must emphasize again that this one is not for the faint of heart, but if you have a strong stomach for some of the more unpleasant things I described in this review, you might find plenty to like in this splendid hidden gem of a historical novel. The story is pretty much self-contained, even if the ending felt just a tad abrupt, but I was ecstatic to find out that there will be a follow-up called Blood Oath coming out later this year. You can be sure I’ll be devouring it as soon as I can get my hands on it....more
I was super excited to read this sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger, and not least because the first book was one of my favorite Young Adult reads of last year. Knowing how rare it is for a series to strike gold twice though (pun intended) I wasn’t surprised to find that I didn’t find Like A River Glorious quite as earth-shattering as its predecessor, but it was still an excellent sequel and a fun YA fantasy western.
At the end of Walk on Earth a Stranger, a novel which takes place in the midst of the great California Gold Rush, protagonist Leah “Lee” Westfall and the survivors of her party had managed to reach their destination at last. They’d wasted no time in settling in and staking their claims, and thanks to Lee’s remarkable secret, she and her friends have done pretty well for themselves.
After careful consideration though, Lee decides to let her trusted circle in on how she’s been helping them find the best plots. The truth is that she has a mysterious magical ability to sense gold in the environment around her, and being in gold-rich California, her powers have been practically humming within her. However, Lee also wanted to come clean to her friends to warn them that being close to her may have its own dangers. Her uncle Hiram, who knows about her secret, is still hunting her and wants to use her gold sense to his advantage. He had already killed Lee’s parents, and now she’s afraid that she’s put everyone associated with her at risk too. Lee had good reason to be worried. Despite their best efforts to remain discreet, news of Lee and her group’s success begins to spread, and it’s just a matter of time before Hiram tracks them down. Unwilling to put her friends through more pain and grief, Lee ultimately decides to take matters into her own hands and begins to plot a plan to confront her uncle.
First, the good stuff: Readers who felt that the first book did not have enough “fantasy” in it will be a lot happier with this sequel. Lee’s gold sense plays a bigger role this time around, and has a much greater impact on the outcome of the story. Her power is also evolving, growing stronger somehow. And as to why this is happening, that’s a mystery Lee is also trying to figure out for herself.
Then there’s the romance. While it wasn’t a big part of the first book, Rae Carson did plant a seed of something between Lee and her best friend Jefferson, and those feelings finally come to fruition. The pacing of the romance remains slow-burn though, which for me is a breath of fresh air especially after having read a string of YA novels featuring instalove, or female protagonists who immediately hurl themselves at a guy the moment he shows a hint of interest. I liked how Lee kept a level head despite her growing feelings for Jeff, keeping in mind what she would be gaining and sacrificing for marriage in an era where women have little power. It may seem like a rather cold, unromantic way to think about love, but it does show that Lee is mature, independent and insightful—traits that I admire in a protagonist.
Despite the book’s strengths though, I did have some issues with the depiction of Lee and her friends, especially given the historical setting and social climate of the times. I understand that, especially in a YA novel, we need our protagonists to be the good guys to cheer for and look up to, and true to form, Lee is heroine who wants to buck the system and fight against injustices. The problem is that it’s not subtle at all, and it’s immersion-breaking when looking at this book through a historical fiction lens. When it comes to historical novels I think it’s important to look at how context shapes character motivations and attitudes, and while I can understand why a lot of Lee’s experiences would shape her opinions on land ownership, slavery, religion, women’s rights, etc., a lot of the actions of her and her settler friends do come across a bit revisionist. At some point in this novel, Lee also started to feel too much to me like a present-day teenage character transported to the 1850s, but this probably didn’t bother me as much as it would have if this had been an adult novel.
Other than that minor issue, I honestly have no complaints. Overall I really enjoyed Like A River Glorious, and like the first book this one was also blessedly free of pesky cliffhangers. I like how both installments have so far ended with all its major story conflicts resolved, while still being a part of a greater narrative. This is another chapter in Lee and Jefferson’s lives, and I loved the happy conclusion. Looking forward to where the next book will take them....more
I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started The Wolf Road, but once it started going I couldn’t stop! And to be honest, I’m surprised more attention hasn’t been given to the book’s “Western” vibe, as that really deserves to be front and center. Out of the novel’s many strengths, its harsh and gritty frontier-like atmosphere was what really stood out—a definite plus for me, considering there’s certainly no shortage of post-apocalyptic settings in the speculative fiction arena.
The Wolf Road features a world ravaged by war. As a little girl, protagonist Elka learned from her Nana about the “Big Damn Stupid”—the catastrophic event that destroyed everything and set human civilization back to zero. Technology and modern comforts are gone now, along with any kind of social infrastructure or protection. It’s everyone for themselves in the northern wilderness where Elka lives, and what’s left of the law here is swift and merciless in delivering justice to criminals and delinquents.
One day when Elka was seven years old though, she found herself lost and alone in the woods. Against all odds, she was rescued and taken in by a man known only as “Trapper”. He sheltered Elka, when he could have turned away and left her to die. For the next ten years he took care of her, and even taught her how to hunt and to trap and to survive off the land. And in time, Elka came to see Trapper as her father.
However, all that safety and happiness about to be ripped away. On a fateful trip into town, Elka discovers that the man who had raised her for the last decade is not who she always thought he was. Trapper turns out to be a serial murderer wanted by the law, and unfortunately for Elka, her close association with him makes her an accomplice. The law is now after her in the form of a ruthless magistrate named Lyon, a hard woman who will stop at nothing to apprehend her prey. And now that Elka is aware of his true identity, the man she used to call her father is coming after her as well, determined not to leave loose ends.
I don’t know what I expected when I first picked up The Wolf Road, but it really hooked me in from the start. First of all, this is a unique novel that encompasses a number of genre elements, making it a bit hard to categorize. While it doesn’t have the breakneck pace of a thriller, the suspense is so thick it’s almost palpable. The post-apocalyptic setting is also unusual in that it downplays the typical themes of technological collapse and life afterwards in the crumbling cities. Instead, we’re deep in the wilderness, focusing on the remnants of a rural population that has reverted to way of life last seen in the mid-1800s, complete with their own Gold Rush! Lone travelers have to guard themselves against wolves and bears, as well as the predators of a more human sort like scammers, murders, and sex traffickers. Throw in poison lakes, the sudden and devastating weather changes, and all the other lasting effects of the Big Damned Stupid, and you have yourself a fascinating mix.
Elka herself is an intriguing character, a product of her unconventional upbringing. She’s tough and independent, but having spent her whole life in the woods, Elka is also understandably a little naïve and all too trusting when she heads out into the world by herself. While her guilelessness does get her into all sorts of trouble, on the bright side it also leads her to an unlikely friendship. Elka meets Penelope, the daughter of a well-to-do doctor, and though the two young women cannot be any more different, they quickly become family to each other. Gradually, their stories are revealed to us, and that’s when the realization really hits you just how dramatically things have changed in this world. Survival in this post-apocalypse can take many forms, and each individual adapts by playing to their strengths. Together, Elka and Penelope make a great team by combining their skills.
Also, no matter who you are or where you come from, everyone in this world has their secrets. In order to understand Elka, we also have to take in account the tricky relationship she has with Trapper, a man she can’t help but still think of as her father, even though she knows he is a killer. The Wolf Road portrays the different relationships very well, but given Elka’s history, there’s also an element of the unreliable narrator to contend with, and I think that’s where the story stumbled for me a little. I can’t go into any more detail due to risk of spoilers, but I can say that fortunately, this issue only cropped up for me near the end of the book, and the twist didn’t affect my overall experience too much.
Bottom line, The Wolf Road is an outstanding novel, incredibly well-written and carried out with impressive finesse. I loved the atmosphere of this world, and the people in it feel fully fleshed out, brought to life with strikingly vivid imagery and realistic characterization. This was one great read....more
It’s a real shame this book and I didn’t hit it off, because I feel it had the potential to be something much greater. I doubt I can pinpoint any one reason why it didn’t work for me either, because in actuality it was a series of smaller issues that compounded together to give me a feeling of “offness”.
When details about Revenge and the Wild first came out, it was billed as a Young Adult fantasy western taking place in a lawless world of “dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters.” The protagonist is Westie, a seventeen-year-old who lost her arm to cannibals as a child while she and her family were on the wagon trail to California. The lone survivor, Westie was rescued by a tribe of Wintu and taken to Rogue City where she was subsequently adopted by Nigel Butler, the eccentric local inventor. The cannibals responsible were never captured or brought to justice.
Armed with a new—well, arm made of metal, Westie has taken it upon herself to hunt the family of cannibals who killed hers, and she’s not going to rest until vengeance is served. Then one day, at long last, Westie believes she has found her targets—except there’s one huge problem. The cannibal family are the Fairfields, wealthy friends of the mayor, and they’re all in Rogue City now looking to make a deal with Nigel, who desperately need the funds to finance his newest invention: a machine with the potential to improve the lives of magical creatures everywhere.
With a buzz term like “fantasy western” (which happens to be a growing sub-genre I’m crazy about), I should have been all over this book. Unfortunately though, the “westerness” ends up getting lost in all the noise. I’m a big proponent of the “less is more” principle, and I have been perfectly happy in the past with fantasy western settings that have just a touch of magic. In contrast, Revenge and the Wild was the prime example of having too much of a good thing. Magic, werewolves, vampires, zombies, elves, dwarves, trolls, leprechauns—it felt like the author threw in everything but the kitchen sink. And then there was the steampunk. In a world already over-encumbered with all manner of paranormal creatures, throwing in more things like airships, robot limbs, and mechanical gadgetry felt like overkill. Greedy. Attempting to cram so much into one book results in not being able to develop any one aspect, so in the end they feel tacked on.
Then there’s Westie, who is just one hot mess. This girl is a walking disaster who can’t seem to do anything right, breaking promises, telling brazen lies, going off on half-baked plans, and making the same impulsive mistakes again and again. Poor Nigel. I’m amazed he hasn’t dropped dead from anxiety caused by Westie-related stress. It would be comical if this were aimed at younger readers—which I originally thought, given the overly simplistic prose, but the strong language, violence and sexual undertones ended up dispelling that theory.
To be fair, this book had some strong points. Westie’s flashback and run-ins with the cannibal family were creepy as hell—like I’m talking Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Children of the Corn creepy. I also really liked Bena and her Wintu tribe, and I can’t help but feel the story might have been stronger if more attention had been given to the Native Americans rather than the paranormal creatures. Lastly, there were a few great twists at the end, including one that I never would have seen coming IN A MILLION YEARS.
All told, Revenge and the Wild was a fun but rather shallow and disorganized story on account of it trying to do too many things at once. It is okay for a debut novel and great for a light read, but overall I feel it needs more streamlining and polish. If you’re looking for a book with teen appeal that also has a fantasy setting with a stronger western vibe, you might want to also take a look at Lila Bowen/Delilah S. Dawson’s Wake of Vultures. It also has magic, Native American mythology, and paranormal creatures, but I feel it better integrates those elements....more
Wake of Vultures has all the qualities of a great book. First, it features a standout protagonist, an undaunted misfit heroine who against all odds rises to meet the biggest challenge of her life. Second, we have an action-filled plot full of wildly imaginative ideas and exciting new twists–in other words, a genuinely entertaining story. Third, I enjoyed its poignant messages of self-discovery and independence, of seizing control of one’s destiny by fighting back against society’s expectations. None of these points would be enough by themselves, but this new coming-of-age tale by Lila Bowen (AKA Delilah S. Dawson) exemplifies all three.
Meet Nettie Lonesome, a mixed-race young woman who was found orphaned as a child and raised by a couple who treated her more like a slave. She has never felt accepted anywhere, though she has found some measure of belonging at a nearby ranch where she trains horses and does other odd jobs while disguised as a man. It’s the only life she’s ever known, until one day, a stranger shows up at her house and attacks her. When Nettie stakes him through the chest with a sharp piece of wood, he disintegrates into a pile of sand. Just like that, her life is turned completely upside down.
Nettie soon learns that the world is full of monsters. Real monsters, like blood drinkers, shapeshifters, harpies, and sirens and chupacabras and more. And now she can see them everywhere. At first, she tries to flee, donning her male disguise to join up with a team of cattle drivers. But Nettie doesn’t realize that she has been marked for a destiny, one she cannot escape until she fulfills the task set for her by forces ancient and unknowable.
First, I know I’ve made it known before how much I love western-fantasy settings. I also am a sucker for the good old girl-disguised-as-a-boy trope. Earlier this year, I read another coming-of-age novel with similar aspects, the fantastic Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, but the two books are very different in their approaches. For one thing, Wake of Vultures is less traditionally Young Adult, leaning towards darker and more mature themes. Nettie’s home is also a grittier, fantastical setting inspired by the Old West, albeit steeped with real-world Native American folklore and mythology. On top of that, Bowen has created a very unique and special world where historical elements combine with the paranormal, so that we get to see some really cool things—like a reimagining of the legendary Rangers as a band of rough living and tough talking monsters hunters, for instance.
It’s also worth picking up Wake of Vultures just to read about Nettie, the most spirited, determined and unforgettable protagonist you’ll ever meet. A half-black, half-Native American woman, nothing in life has ever been easy for her, and yet even when constrained by societal expectations, she has the guts and gumption to do anything to get what she wants. Her gender keeping her from getting her dream job? No problem, chop off her hair and pretend to be one of the guys. And monsters beware, Nettie’s not one to lie down and be easy prey. After discovering her gift, she even tries her darndest to escape her fate, until her pragmatism and kindheartedness makes her realize she would be doing a lot more good by standing her ground against evil.
Furthermore, for someone who lives in disguise and who goes by so many different names, Nettie is surprisingly comfortable in her own skin. Whether she calls herself Nettie Lonesome, Nat Lonesome, or Rhett Hennessy, all those are simply different aspects of her true self; no matter which identity she takes on, her race, gender and sexuality are all things she embraces, even when she’s still learning what it all means, and I love how extraordinarily genuine and down-to-earth she is.
From the moment I heard about this book and its western setting, I knew I had to read it. And in the end, it turned out to be even more than I bargained for. Wake of Vultures did not disappoint, giving me what I wanted and then some. Bold and original, this weird west fantasy novel is a masterfully written tale full of thrilling adventure and heart. Give me book two now!...more
From the very start, I had a feeling that Walk on Earth a Stranger would be just the book for me. I have a huge weakness for fantasy western settings and themes exploring wild frontiers, so a story set in Gold Rush-era America about a young woman trying to make her way to California sounded exactly like something I would enjoy.
Ahem. Then came several of my Goodreads friends’ reviews comparing it to The Oregon Trail.
Okay, hold up a second. The Oregon Trail? THE OREGON TRAIL?!! I loved that game growing up. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still dig it up to play every few years, just to relive the nostalgia. If this book lives up to even just a fraction of those descriptions, it was going to be awesome.
But the best has yet to come. Not long after I started this book, I was delighted to discover that In Walk on Earth a Stranger, the protagonist is a girl named Leah Westfall who has to take on the guise of a boy, becoming Lee McCauley in order to strike it out on her own cross-country.
Why, yes, the girl-disguised-as-boy trope happens to be one of my favorites, actually.
Perhaps my love for this book was a forgone conclusion, perhaps not. Regardless, I don’t hand out full marks lightly, especially when it comes to Young Adult fiction. Folks know I’m super picky about my YA. As I was reading, I was looking for other things to fall into place, because nothing frustrates me more than a great idea undermined by shoddy execution. This being my first book by Rae Carson, her writing and storytelling was also a big question mark to me so I had no idea what to expect.
As you can see though, I ended up enjoying every moment! I was also very impressed with Carson’s writing, so much so that I want to rush to add her other books to my TBR, post-haste.
Still, I’m not sure that I would enjoy anything as much as I did Walk on Earth a Stranger. True, this book features several themes I like, but it also deviates from a lot of YA conventions, which is probably another reason why I took to it so completely.
First of all, if you like a lot of magic in your fantasy, you’re not going to find much of it here. The only fantasy element in this book is Lee’s special power, her ability to sense gold around her. A most handy talent for someone with plans to head out west during the Gold Rush hoping to make their fortune, but it doesn’t come into play throughout much of the story, which mostly involves a lot of traveling. And traveling. And more traveling.
Which brings me to my second caveat. If you’re seeking action and excitement, a fast-paced plot to get your blood pumping in your veins, Walk on Earth a Stranger is not really that kind of story. It is a tale of survival, with as much focus on the emotional journey as the physical one. Let’s go back to The Oregon Trail comparison. You remember all the horrible things that could befall your company, right? You had everything from buffalo stampedes to little Mary has the measles. The point is, not every danger or threat is immediate; some, in truth, are pretty boring and routine. Doesn’t mean they still can’t kill you though, if you don’t have help. Thus, while brute force and personal determination might help get you to California, so too does the power of cooperation and forging lasting friendships. No, this book isn’t exactly a page-turner, but what you do get is your character development and meaningful relationships in spades. The people you meet in this book will become your family. Whenever good things happened to the characters, I couldn’t help but feel giddy with joy. And when they experienced tragedy, my heart ached along with theirs.
Third caveat: If you need a love story, you can forget it. While the slightest hint of lovey-dovey feelings are ever present between Lee and her best friend Jefferson, the romance is so slow-burning that it is virtually non-existent. Wait, you mean, there’s no unnecessary romantic drama to get in the way of the story? Perfect! Lee does end up feeling jealous towards another girl in their wagon train, but eventually the two of them actually become friends. I can’t tell you how refreshing that is, especially these days when it feels like every four out of five YA novels I read that has a female character who’s not the main protagonist, they inevitably become bitter enemies. It’s nice to see a potential rival end up an ally for a change.
Another nice thing about this book is that it can be read as a self-contained story. Of course, Rae Carson leaves plenty of breadcrumbs along this journey to pick up for the later books, but she’s not leaving us with any burning questions or an infuriating cliffhanger. Honestly, I don’t need any of those to want to read the sequel; a chance to spend more time with the wonderful characters I met in this book is already incentive enough for me. This is YA fiction done right, in my opinion, with a charming approach to history and just a light brush of fantasy. I loved it, and I want more like this....more
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”
A lot of times, it’s the books that initially fly under my radar which end up impressing me the most. This was the case with Karen Memory, whose description didn’t actually appeal to me at first. After all, as much as I love steampunk, I’ve read so much of the genre that admittedly I’ve gotten a lot pickier in recent years. It’s going to take more than just airships and clockwork gadgetry to entice me these days.
The moment I read the first paragraph though, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. It’s not even just the “Old West” feel of the setting (which I’m a sucker for and gets me every time) that caught my attention, but the distinct and down-to-earth voice of the narrator which immediately tugged at something in my heart. Right away, I knew I wanted to learn more about her. I wanted to get to know her and hear her story.
Our protagonist Karen Memery turns out to a young “seamstress” (a euphemism those around her parts use for prostitute) working for Madame Damnable at one of Rapid City’s more upscale establishments. It’s late 19th century and the Pacific Northwest is at the height of another gold rush; like any frontier town that’s sprouted up around the mining industry, life is rough and the folks even rougher. Working girls like Karen at the Hôtel Mon Cherie know that the best way to survive is to stick together and look after one another, but not everyone is so fortunate to have an employer like Madame Damnable or friends to watch their back.
The calm is shattered one night when two young women arrive at the Mon Cherie seeking help and protection. This is how Karen first meets and falls in love with Priya, a prostitute who managed to escape the horrific conditions of a rival brothel, but not without its mean and nasty proprietor Peter Bantle in hot pursuit. Thwarted, Bantle vows to make Madame Damnable and her girls’ lives a living hell, and with what appears to be mind-control device in his possession, he might be more dangerous than anyone believed. When the flogged and bloody corpses of women start appearing around town, one begins to wonder if all of this is connected somehow. A new lawman rides into town with his Comanche partner on the tail of a vicious serial killer, and together with Karen and the friends, this ragtag but resourceful crew is determined to get to the bottom of this conspiracy.
At times, Karen Memory did feel very much like my perfect book. It is imaginative steampunk that feels fresh and full of life, served up as a rich blend of mystery, suspense, action and romance. The end result is difficult to describe, but delightfully easy to enjoy. As I said before, I have a weakness for westerns and stories that take place during the expansion into the western frontier, so I was charmed at once by Rapid City, resplendently brought to life by Elizabeth Bear’s evocative and vivid descriptions. Despite a healthy dose of fantastical steampunk, we never lose sight of the distinctive characteristics or nuances of this particular era.
Karen herself is an amazing one-of-a-kind character, telling her story with a candidness that I found very charming. The narrative style won’t be for everyone, riddled with its colloquialisms and informal jargon, but it worked surprisingly well for me. It made Karen feel so real — I could practically hear her voice and imagine her mannerisms in my head. I’ll say this — whoever is narrating the audiobook will have her work cut out for her, as it’ll be hard to top what’s already written on paper. Usually prose littered with slang and grammatical errors, whether they’re intentional or not, would drive me nuts (especially my personal pet peeve, “would of” instead of “would’ve”, which Karen repeatedly commits). That I was able to overlook them in this case says a lot.
No doubt the book would not have been the same without Karen’s unique voice, but the other ladies at the Hôtel Mon Cherie surely deserve a mention too. This entire cast of brave and capable kickass women will rock your world and fill you with admiration. After Karen, I’m especially taken with the character of Madame, inspired by the real Mother Damnable, Mary Ann Conklin who ran Seattle’s first hotel and high-class brothel. For a certainty, this novel features no shortage of spirited women will go to great lengths for those they love and what they believe in, and will not back down without a fight.
Karen Memory is a book about a lot of things – solving a mystery, hunting a merciless killer, saving the city from evil, and all the spectacular drama that comes along with such activities. But at its heart, the book is also about forging friendships, growing up, and chasing one’s dreams. Behind the rollicking adventure is also a softer, more introspective side to the story that will surely resonate with a lot of readers.
Final verdict? I would definitely recommend this. It’s actually my first book by Elizabeth Bear, but regardless of whether you’re a long-time fan of the author or relatively new to her work like me, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Check it out....more
In 2013, Jo Fletcher Books sent me a copy of David Towsey’s Your Brother’s Blood and introduced me to a whole new perspective on the walking dead, and I realized I was looking at something very special. A “zombie-western series with the feels” is how I would describe The Walkin’ books, except I wouldn’t want to lead readers into a false sense of security either! Yes, while Towsey does show a more “human” side to zombies by letting them retain their emotions, intelligence and awareness of everything around them, like most tales that take place in the wild and lawless frontier, these novels possess an air of that steely grimness.
Your Servants and Your People is the sequel to Your Brother’s Blood that takes place seven years later. In that time, many things have changed. The Walkin’, or those who have died and come back, are tolerated in society, if not wholly embraced. In many towns they are still discriminated against and treated as an inferior class, though without the need to eat or sleep, most find work as laborers for the living.
Our protagonist Thomas McDermott on the other hand is a Walkin’ who just wants to be left alone. Since the end of the first book, he has reunited with his very-much-alive wife Sarah and daughter Mary, but there hasn’t yet been a happy ending for the three of them. In fact, the McDermotts are on the move again, looking for a place to settle after being forced to abandon home after home. Seems folks aren’t too accepting of a Walkin’ cohabiting with the living. Now Thomas is leading his family to a more remote part of the country, far away from the judging eyes of society, and escorting the McDermotts are a group of soldiers who are also on their way to the frontier garrison of Fort Wilson.
The series is clearly maturing, with book two differing from its predecessor in several major ways. Firstly, the years have changed the characters, none more so than Mary, who was just a child in Your Brother’s Blood. That little girl has grown into a young woman, and gone is her sweet innocence, which has been replaced by a bitter aloofness. Mary doesn’t say much, but she doesn’t need to for readers to grasp that this is one angry and rebellious teenager. Towsey portrays her character with a quiet intensity; he’s really good when it comes to “showing, not telling” and I love his subtle touch with all his characters.
The scope of the story has also expanded beyond the McDermott family. We branch into two significant threads here, the first one following Thomas, Sarah and Mary’s progress in establishing their homestead, and the second following the group of soldiers who were sent to Fort Wilson. A young man named Bryn is the focus of this second group, and he and comrades go through some awful, unspeakable things while holed up in that lonely outpost, things that I won’t go into detail here but that I will say are worthy of the most chilling of horror stories.
In spite of that, there is a lesser sense of urgency here in Your Servants and Your People as compared to Your Brother’s Blood. The first book’s premise was a lot more intense, following Thomas and Mary as they flee desperately across a forbidding wasteland, trying to keep ahead of a gang of zealots bent on killing them both. In contrast, for most of this book the plot moves at a gentler and steadier pace. Thomas and his family make their way to a new part of the country, stake their claim on a piece of land and begin the slow task of building a house. It’s the classic pioneer’s life story…well, save for the fact that the head of your party is a zombie.
These books have feeling because at their heart they are about love and devotion to family – after all, not even dying could stop Thomas from coming home to Mary, or from providing his wife and daughter a safe place to live. But there are still those who see him as an abomination and will stop at nothing to see him destroyed. I was hoping to finally see the McDermotts settle into their new life, because if anyone deserves a happy ending, it’s them. But as it turns out, the gradual pacing of this book fooled me into thinking that the threat was over, so that the bombshell the author dropped at the end crept up on me when I was least expecting it. Well played, Mr. Towsey.
The Walkin’ series is fresh, richly imagined, and sure to stand out for readers looking for a new twist on a classic genre. Beautiful and haunting, Your Servants and Your People is a sequel that brings back everything that was great about Your Brother’s Blood but at the same time feels different enough for me to see that the series is evolving. David Towsey has a knack for writing very gritty, very real protagonists with depth, and my heart is aching and anxious for the McDermotts now, wondering what will happen to them in the next book. I’m definitely not missing out on the final installment of this trilogy....more
I didn't think I was going to enjoy this book at first. Thank goodness I was wrong! Still, can you really blame me for having my doubts? After being inundated in recent years with the dozens upon dozens of movies, TV shows, video games etc. all featuring the same mindless gory battles against the shambling, moaning hordes of the undead, my initial thought was: been there, done that, now what more can this zombie book offer?
Well, this is the review where I happily eat my words! I should have known better anyway, because Ragnarok Publications has never let me down. As it turned out, Those Poor, Poor Bastards had a lot more to offer than I'd anticipated, in addition to that charming little title. The book did contain some of the usual trappings you'll find in a lot of zombie stories, but there were some twists as well, and I loved how the authors took the familiar and created something new. Also, while I haven't read enough of the Weird West sub-genre to consider myself a fan, a description like "Zombie Western" wasn't really something I could resist.
It is 1868, in the Sierra Nevada. The book begins with Nina Weaver and her father Lincoln riding into Coburn Station only to find that everything has gone to hell in a chuckwagon. The "Deaduns" have arisen and are sowing bloody carnage all over town, forcing the living to band together in order to survive. In typical fashion, you end up with a large, diverse ensemble cast. And like watching The Walking Dead, you just know before you even begin that many of them are going to end up zombie food before this whole thing is over.
Put a big group of people with disparate personalities into a stressful situation and you'll also inevitably get your clashes and alliances within the ranks. There are the good folks like Nina and her pa, the priest Father Mathias as well as the charming James Manning. On the other side of the fence you have the less savory types and troublemakers like the Daggett brothers or the scummy Mister Strobridge. Then there are those caught in the middle who just aren't sure. With tensions this high and a swarm of Deaduns at the door, it's the perfect set up for explosive conflict. Emphasis on explosive.
So far, with the exception of the western setting, things might be sounding rather familiar. But then, the authors work their magic and you suddenly realize there is way more to this story. Bucking tradition, we're actually given an explanation into the Deaduns and how they came to be. Their origins and motives, not to mention the actual reveal itself, were so unique that it completely threw me for a loop -- in a good way! I have to say this ended up being a delightfully fun read, in all its blood-splattered glory.
Those Poor, Poor Bastards also taught me something important about myself -- that I will never be too old or too jaded for a good ol' zombie story! What a fast-paced, crazy wild book. I think I'll just end this review with a suggestion to the potential reader: there are a lot of characters, so definitely try to tackle this novel all in one go if you can, ensuring that the dozen or so identities will always remain fresh in your mind. Besides, it shouldn't be too difficult -- because once you start reading, you just might find it hard to stop!...more
I usually start off my reviews with an explanation of what initially drew me to the book, and in this case it was the words "Zombies" and "Western" used to describe it that had me tripping over my feet for the opportunity to check it out. To date, I've only read a few titles from relatively new speculative fiction imprint Jo Fletcher, but they've already set themselves apart in my mind as a very special publisher, thanks to books like Your Brother's Blood which mix elements of sci-fi and fantasy with many other genres. Here, the result is something completely new and different, but I was also surprised to find this "Zombie-Western" to be quite literary and elegant at the same time.
The book is actually set hundreds of years into the future after an oft referred to but unknown apocalyptic event, and pockets of humanity now live ruggedly in small communities spread out across a vast and arid land in a style reminiscent of the Old West. A war is currently being waged between two armies, and caught in between them is the complicated matter of the dead who come back to life, those referred to as "the Walkin'".
Thomas grew up in Barkley, and at thirty-two years old he'd left to fight a war only to die and wake up again. He knows going home will put his wife and child in danger, but the pull towards love and family is too great; in the end his arrival in town sends him on the run again, with his daughter Mary in tow. It becomes a race against time as they try to evade their pursuers, because Barkley's zealots do not suffer the wicked or their spawn to live.
Other than a very few exceptions, I don't think I've come across many zombie stories that are told from the perspective of the undead, so this immediately makes Your Brother's Blood stand out for me. As a Walkin', Thomas' heart does not beat, nor does he bleed or feel a thing, but he does possess emotions, intelligence, and awareness of everything around him. He remembers Mary even though he hasn't seen her in a long time, and his love and devotion to her leads to many sad and touching scenes between father and daughter.
In this and many other ways, Your Brother's Blood is not a typical zombie novel; in fact, it shares very few similarities with other books in this horror sub-genre. Towsey's zombies aren't the mindless, shambling and brains-craving kind to be feared, and much of my enjoyment was actually the result of how much I sympathized with Thomas and related to his concerns for Mary. It's definitely a story that tugs at your heartstrings, but on the flip side there's also a sense of danger and urgency, for at the heart of this plot is the desperate-chase-across-the-wasteland factor that's so characteristic of classic Westerns.
There's just such a strange but unique mix of elements here, making this a special book unlike anything I've read before. There's just enough detail in this book to make you wonder things like, what happened to result in this post-apocalyptic world, and what's "in the blood" that makes a person more liable to rise as a Walkin' when they die? I'm hoping future installments will explore these questions, but I'd be okay too if some things are left as mysteries.
It's always interesting to me when I see authors take what's familiar and shake things up, creating imaginative characters and new worlds that lead to speculation. This was an enjoyable debut from David Towsey that not only surprised me with its originality, but also had a lot more feeling than I expected. I recommend it to anyone looking for something that's different, resonant and not "just another zombie book".
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review....more
The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is my first venture into Mike Resnick's Weird West Tales, and actually my first exposure to the author, period. Like many kids growing up, I went through a phase in my childhood where I was just nuts for dinosaurs. I suppose a part of that love has stayed with me all this time, because when I saw the cover and description for this one I just couldn't resist.
This is the fourth book of the series starring Doc Holliday of American Old West fame, but if I'm not mistaken, each installment can be read on its own. We seem to be catching our protagonist at a pretty bad time though, as the book opens on Doc bedridden and coughing out his lungs in a sanitarium, dying of the dastardly consumption. But then he is visited by the medicine man and great chief Geronimo, who grants him one more year of life in exchange for a favor.
Doc Holliday is tasked to stop two paleontologists who have been carrying out their digs on sacred Comanche burial grounds in Wyoming. Sounds easy enough. But that was before Doc learned that the two scientists involved are none other than Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, two men who hate each others' guts and are locked in eternal competition. Time is running out and the Comanche medicine men have made things clear: stop desecrating their lands or they will unleash a horde of monsters, the kind our world has not seen in 65 million years.
A crazy blend of steampunk, fantasy, alternate history and western, this book was as much fun as I thought it would be! I've never had the pleasure of reading a "true" dime novel from the latter half of the 1800s, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Resnick is in some way emulating the spirit and style of the popular fiction in those days. As you would expect from the above synopsis, the book's story and characters are more sensational than deep, with an entertaining plot that contains more clever, snappy dialogue than exposition. Nevertheless, that's the kind of book it was intended to be. In that sense, it does the job and does it well.
This book was also such a treat for the part of me that still loves dinosaurs. We all know there's no shortage of stories about the Old West featuring famous gunfighters like Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Cole Younger, and the list goes on. But while this series also features an impressive list of shootists, I loved how this particular story directed its focus to another significant event that took place during America's Gilded Age -- the Great Dinosaur Rush. For one, the hatred between Cope and Marsh was so intense, their rivalry so frenzied, that the two men actually spawned a period in paleontological history known as the Bone Wars. It's fascinating stuff! I was happy to see a spotlight on this idea, and an entire story built around it.
Is The Doctor and the Dinosaurs a little over the top? Perhaps. But is it fun? Definitely. I picked up this book hoping for an afternoon of fun, light reading, and that's exactly what it delivered....more
This book was a bit quirky and slightly odd at times, but for me it was like a breath of fresh air. It's different from the stuff I usually pick up, and ultimately it may have been a little too bizarre for my tastes, but I certainly don't regret reading it. When it comes to originality and interesting ideas, this book gets massive points.
My love for speculative fiction, especially when other genres are infused with a paranormal twist, is what drew me to this book in the first place. A fantasy western about a group of people from different times and places all mysteriously ending up in an unfamiliar world called the Wasteland? It sounded too intriguing to pass up.
Other than the fact this Wasteland is full of monsters and other unsavory types, however, I didn't know much else about the novel, so I settled back and prepared to let myself be drawn in. And that's exactly what the story did, thanks to the unusual but simply extraordinary ideas I found in here. The characters are a motley group made up of: Jack and Kitty, siblings from the Wild West; Edgar, a bootlegger from the time of the prohibition; Francis, a hippie; Hector, a former carnie; and Melody, a crazy 1950s housewife. And then there's Chloe, the newest addition to the team, who passes out one night in 2013 after a crazy night of binge drinking, and wakes up in the Wasteland.
These "Arrivals" were all ne'er-do-wells in the times they came from, but the most remarkable thing about them is what happens after they die -- or rather, what doesn't happen. Death isn't always permanent, but they don't find out whether it is or not until days later when the Arrival who died either wakes up good as new...or they don't. Their nemesis is a man called Ajani, a force of evil they have been struggling against ever since the first Arrival came to the Wasteland.
This is very much a character-driven novel, and their relationship dynamics form the basis for much of the story. Jack and Kitty take center stage most of the time and sometimes Chloe, even though I wished more attention could have been paid to the other Arrivals, such as Melody. I gathered she's pretty unbalanced through the fearful conversations the others have about her and their reluctance to get too close, but I would have loved to see more examples of Melody living up to her reputation. There are great characters here, but it's a pretty short book and it's just a shame the secondary characters don't get more screen time.
As I said, the book has many interesting and original ideas, and expect to have a lot of questions when reading this. If you're like me and prefer your books to also provide the answers, then you might find it a little frustrating, because at times you'll feel like you're only getting half the story. I was disappointed that there weren't more explanations, but the good news is that this doesn't diminish the quality of the world building. The Wasteland is not as desolate as it sounds, and the essence of the land and its creatures will constantly surprise you.
In many ways, The Arrivals is the kind of book you have to take as it is, and just go with the flow. I'm not a big fan of info-dumps, but I also like some explanations when they're warranted, and I have to say I enjoyed this book a lot more once I've accepted that I probably won't get answers to all my questions. What this novel offers, though, is a story of adventure about an unusual but fascinating group of people, and what they mean to each other. There's nothing out there like it!...more
A lot of the books that I’m excited for in 2015 are actually releasing quite late this year, so as we sauOriginally reviewed at The Speculative Herald
A lot of the books that I’m excited for in 2015 are actually releasing quite late this year, so as we sauntered into fall and said good bye to summer, I was getting ready to say hello to a couple of my most anticipated titles. Shadows of Self was most definitely near the top of that list. I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, and I absolutely loved The Alloy of Law – probably more than all three books of the original Mistborn trilogy put together, so small wonder that I was really looking forward to this follow-up.
If there’s one thing I can never resist, it’s a good Fantasy meets Western setting. Three centuries after the events at the end of The Hero of Ages, the world of Mistborn has transformed into something altogether different. We’re on the cusp of an era similar to the industrial revolution, and all around are new inventions giving rise to mild hints of steampunk. On the outskirts of the built-up city of Elendel is a dusty, lawless territory known as the Roughs, where our protagonist Lord Waxillium Ladrian made his name as a lawman-for-hire.
Magic, however, is alive and well. Allomancy and Feruchemy are still around, though applied here in a different way which preserves the marvel of the original system while adding a whole new dimension to it at the same time. Characters from the original trilogy like Vin, Elend, Kelsier and Sazed are also now long gone but not lost, their names immortalized forever in history and religion. It’s therefore possible to read this subseries without having to start with the first three books, though the experience might be richer if you do because then you’ll understand all the references to these past people and events. And for those who enjoyed the original trilogy, The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self will introduce you to a fresh start featuring great new characters in a dynamic world that evolves with time. You’ll still be getting all the good stuff, but these books are far from being just the same-old, same-old; they’re shorter, more lighthearted and fun in tone and style, and I found that the mix of old and new worked very well for me.
Shadows of Self continues the adventure by bringing back Waxillium and his good friend Wayne in a new mystery involving a hunt for an assassin. Nearly two decades have passed since Wax first started his youthful escapades into the Roughs, and he has recently returned to the city in order to take up the mantle of his lordship, which comes with a whole new set of responsibilities – including getting married. Wax and Wayne now use their allomantic powers to assist the constabulary of Elendel, working alongside the constable-general’s chief aide Marasi Harms, who is also the half-sister of Wax’s fiancée. Their latest case involves a massacre at an auction organized by the governor’s corrupt brother, whose body was found among the victims which included nobles as well the city’s most notorious crime lords.
It soon becomes clear that the governor himself is a target. And to make matters worse, Wax learns that the assassin they hunt may not be human at all, but a Faceless Immortal who calls herself Bleeder, a kandra that ingests the bones of other beings to take on their physical appearance and personality. What do you do when your quarry could be anyone?
Given how much I enjoyed The Alloy of Law, I was not surprised that I had a great time with this book too. Shadows of Self features a more complex plot, drawing heavily upon the world of Mistborn and its religious lore. The gods play a much bigger role in this one, with the stormy politics of the deities mirroring the political state of the mortal world. Just as the people of Elendel are sick and tired of the corruption in the government and in the nobility, not all kandra are content with Harmony’s rule. When both situations come to a boiling point, the results aren’t pretty. For readers though, it’s a tense race against time with Wax, Wayne and Marasi as they try to prevent the city from tearing itself apart, and the only way to stop the destruction is to catch Bleeder. For a supposedly insane killer, she proves to be much craftier than anyone could imagine.
Wax and Wayne are also as fantastic a duo as the synergy of their names imply (though in truth, any scene with Wayne in it is automatically awesome, even when he’s solo) and having Marasi back is great as well. It’s interesting to see the dynamics play out between them when they work together, and as always I love the humor and the snappy dialogue which is way more prominent here than in the original trilogy, and probably where the lighter “fluffier” feel of these books comes from. Each character also has his or her own strengths and foibles, and I thought this installment explored those traits and covered them remarkably well without taking away from the main story.
The most exciting moments came at the end for me, and I won’t lie, I was a bit of an emotional wreck after last few chapters. Strangely, I wouldn’t say the events leading up to the climax were entirely unpredictable, though the twists were a mix of “Okay, I saw that coming” along with “Wait, that wasn’t what I expected.” Either way, Sanderson knows how to deliver a conclusion, and it’s a jaw-dropping one that left me reeling from the impact. I’ve become deeply invested in Wax’s story over the course of these two novels, and the ending did not disappoint.
All told, this book sees Brandon Sanderson doing more of what he does best – telling captivating stories that delight and enchant. Shadows of Self is another great addition to the Mistborn sequence, and another fantastic book from an author well known for his creative world-building and ingenious magic systems....more
4.5 stars. After finishing a reread of all three books of Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, I finally felt ready to tackle this book. Sure, I was aware th4.5 stars. After finishing a reread of all three books of Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, I finally felt ready to tackle this book. Sure, I was aware that The Alloy of Law could technically be read as a standalone, given that it's set 300 years after the events of The Hero of Ages and stars completely new characters. Nonetheless, I wanted to refresh my memory on the background of the world and especially Allomancy lore.
Good thing I did too, because even though centuries have passed and characters like Vin, Elend, Sazed and the rest of the gang are long gone, their lives and stories have become immortalized in this world's history and even religious canon. They are respected figures, with cities and landmarks named for them, and being able to recognize references such as these makes the reading experience that much better. The magic systems of Allomancy and Feruchemy are also still around, and in fact are made even more interesting by all the resulting possible combinations of metal powers that people can possess.
The protagonist of The Alloy of Law, for instance, is known as a "Twinborn", someone who has access to both an Allomantic power and a Feruchemic power. Waxillium Ladrian's set of abilities allows him to push on metals as well as change his mass at will -- a useful and powerful combination which serves him well as a crime-fighter out in the lawless frontier called the Roughs. But then his uncle dies, and Wax is recalled to the city and his noble roots. He reluctantly turns away from his lawman past and prepares to take on the role and duties more befitting a lord of his stature -- until a gang of bandits called the Vanishers surfaces, robbing trains and kidnapping hostages, and Wax realizes he can no longer stand idly by while decent people get hurt.
I'm not surprised at how much I enjoyed this. If there's one thing I can count on, it's that Brandon Sanderson gets better with each book he writes. Even though his Mistborn trilogy featured more characters and a more epic and elaborate story, I think I might have liked The Alloy of Law better than all three of those books put together. Despite its simplicity, I loved the western-like setting as well as the mild hints of steampunk I caught from passing descriptions of the new and extraordinary technology. It's always amazing to me whenever we get to see a fantasy world evolve like this.
It was also nice to see the humor between the two characters Waxillium and his friend Wayne. I don't think the book is meant to be a lighthearted read exactly, but I like it when Sanderson writes funny scenes like this with clever and witty banter. Reading this book made me laugh quite a few times, a fact I don't take for granted, especially since I make it no secret that I was not particularly happy with how things ended in The Hero of Ages. I don't deny that it might have even soured me on the whole trilogy, so to follow it up with something like The Alloy of Law definitely had the effect of lifting my spirits somewhat. The ending of the book sets things up nicely for the next installment, and I'm already looking forward to it.
Golgotha, Nevada 1869. Fifteen-year-old Jim finds himself in town after surviving the 40-Mile Desert, running from his past with just his horse and hiGolgotha, Nevada 1869. Fifteen-year-old Jim finds himself in town after surviving the 40-Mile Desert, running from his past with just his horse and his father's magical jade eye in his pocket.
Golgotha has always had a way of attracting and drawing in the supernatural. With its history of unexplained occurrences, the old town is also home to many strange denizens, including Jonathan Highfather, the town's sheriff whose extraordinary luck has always preserved him despite many close shaves with death. Mutt, his deputy, is said to be the son of Coyote. Meek and prim Maude Stapleton, wife of a prominent banker, is actually a deadly trained assassin and a follower of the cult of Lilith.
It all comes to a head when an ancient evil deep beneath the old mines of the mountain is called forth into the world, and the town's motley crew of citizens must join together to defeat the sinister force and its tainted army.
On the surface, this may sound like another one of your familiar characters-get-together-to-save-the-world books, but I have to say in all honesty I've never read a book quite like The Six-Gun Tarot. And it's a great thing. I've always enjoyed westerns whenever I read them, especially when they are mixed with aspects of fantasy and the paranormal. This book was an interesting blend of all that goodness as well as elements of theology and horror.
What makes The Six-Gun Tarot stand out is its world-building and character development. Almost the entirety of the book takes place in Golgotha and its surroundings, with flashbacks to some of the characters' pasts. The town and its population is brought to life by many of these rich backstories.
In fact, at times the book almost feels overly ambitious in these areas. I think it was a good move for the author to keep a lot about the history of the town and its people unexplained to preserve a bit of mystery, but at the same time I was left with so many questions and a desire to know more.
Take Maude's past as an example. What really was the purpose of all her training? Did she put her skills to good use on any adventures between the short time she became initiated and the time she met her husband and got married? Or what about Clay the taxidermist and mad scientist tinkerer? What's the deal there and where was his backstory?
These questions were just a handful of the many that occurred to me while reading. It felt to me that there was so much potential there to be explored, and what didn't get expanded upon seemed like wasted opportunities. This book could have been longer if only to delve more into the history of these characters, since they were what made this book so unique. Perhaps then there would also have been less frequent jumping around of character perspectives, which often got distracting.
As a debut novel, however, I have to say this one was solid. I look forward to checking out more of R.S. Belcher's stuff in the future....more
Brilliant. To me this is probably the best book Joe Abercrombie's written so far, and I'm talking like I love it even more than the First Law trilogy,Brilliant. To me this is probably the best book Joe Abercrombie's written so far, and I'm talking like I love it even more than the First Law trilogy, which is saying a lot. Until this book came along, I didn't think anything else he wrote would come close; after all, I thought Best Served Cold and The Heroes were meh and even more meh, respectively.
But Red Country simply just blew me away. Okay, so maybe it's because I have a thing for westerns. Though granted this isn't your traditional kind of western -- there are no guns or cowboys or anything -- but once you start reading, the author's intentions are unmistakeable. Joe A is totally going for his own version of the wild west, set in his First Law world, and seamlessly couples that with his "gritty, dark fantasy" approach that I've come to love.
Those familiar with the John Wayne Western film "The Searchers" will recognize the story immediately -- our main character Shy South sets off on a journey with her adoptive father to find her little brother and sister who have been abducted by bandits. But Joe A adds his own brand of style to the main conflict. Anyway, as soon as the characters join up with a wagon train and cattle drive with a Fellowship to the "far country", I just knew I was going to love this book.
Two things stood out for me that I enjoyed immensely about Red Country. Firstly, the characters. Before I go on, I'd like to say if you're a fan of Joe Abercrombie's other books, especially the First Law trilogy, you'll be delighted to find the return of some old friends. It's not actually that big a secret, even though the book never mentions a certain someone by name. All I'll say is just look carefully at the cover; if you know what to look for you'll probably be as overjoyed as I was.
There are also many great new characters -- Shy, Temple, Dab Sweet, Savian, etc. All of them are given unique personalities that set them apart and make them memorable, which I think is one of the author's greatest strengths (for example, who can ever forget a character like Sand Dan Glokta?) and is a big reason why I liked this book so much. After all, one of my chief disappointments with The Heroes was that it was pretty much about a whole lot of Northmen who were essentially all just a bunch of rough and gruff guys who did a bunch of rough and gruff fighting. With nobody really standing out for me, I felt Abercrombie's talents just didn't shine through like it did here.
The second thing I enjoyed about Red Country is the dialogue. Admittedly, Abercrombie will at times fudge a bit of the vernacular and break immersion, which I confess jolted me out of at fantasy/western world every once in a while, but I believe he does it for good reason: to make the conversations interesting, clever, and funny. There are so many awesome lines, so much quotable material in this book, and I just adore his wit so much, that well, obviously I was more than happy to let that one fault slide.
Anyway, definitely the best fantasy book I've read in a while. I was intrigued by the plot, amused by the jokes, shocked by the violence, touched by romance (well, the Joe Abercrombie kind of romance...the man certainly has a knack for writing the most hilarious and awkward sex scenes ever), surprised by the twists, impressed by the quality of writing, and most definitely sad when it all ended....more