Howdy, Geeks and Geekettes! It’s time for the next installment of Weird Western Week here at Geekin’! Today we’ll be focusing on books. We have a special guest submitting some reviews for us, and we’re ecstatic to have him contributing. Be sure to check out Dan Schwent’s blogs over at http://dangerousdansbookblog.blogspot.com and http://www.shelfinflicted.com
First and foremost, I have to give a shout out to the first ever
The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree
When Ross Brigham returns from a stint in the army, his life is a shambles. His wife has left him and his father, Hugo Award-winner Ed Brigham is dead with Ross tapped to finish his last novel in his western-fantasy series, the Fire and Fiddle. But what will Ross do when he finds out his father has been murdered and the world he has been writing about for years is real?
Two disclosures before we get down to business.
1. I got this book in exchange for a review. And it’s pretty damn sweet.
2. I’m never in a hurry to read self-published books since they are usually not well written or edited to any visible degree. However, this one’s name is a line from a Johnny Cash song.
Confession Time: Sometime during the gap between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, I was so enamored with the Dark Tower that I took a number of stabs at writing my own Dark Tower-inspired fantasy western. I got about 30-40k in before I decided I was just rewriting the Dark Tower and put it on the shelf. I’m glad S.A. Hunt didn’t shelf his Dark Tower homage.
Like it says on the back cover, The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is a love letter to the Dark Tower, 80’s fantasy, and spaghetti westerns. Even still, I accepted this book with reluctance. I mean, first off, it’s from Createspace. Why don’t I just get out my red pen and start clenching my jaw right now? And it’s an homage to the Dark Tower? Did Hunt just change a some things around and regurgitate the sacred texts like so many Tolkien imitators have done before him?
He did not.
While the Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree may have been inspired by the Dark Tower in some degrees, like Stephen King being a character in the later books and the fact that there are Gunslingers running around, it stands on its own. It actually reminds me more of the second half of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, where Quentin finds out that the Narnia-analog Fillory is real.
Ross and friends Sawyer and Noreen find themselves on Destin, the world Ross’s father had been writing up until his untimely death. A mysterious black figure stalks them as they struggle to get acclimated to their new world. Hunt makes the world-building fairly painless. I love that aspiring gunslingers have to eat some fungus as their final test. Those that survive have their brains reconfigured by the fungus to be awesome killing machines. Those that don’t end up dead or irreparably insane. Good stuff.
My fears about the writing were unfounded. There were some editing hiccups but it was head and shoulders above most self-published books I’ve ever read. I loved references to the Dark Tower, the Simpsons, and lots of 80’s fantasy and sf movies.
Any complaints? Just that there wasn’t as much gunslinging action as I was hoping. It feels like the first volume of a series, which it is. When’s the next one coming out, Hunt?
Deadman’s Road is a collection of the tales starring Reverend Jebidiah Mercer, a gun-toting preacher in the Old Weird West. I think I’ve read most of the stories before in Dead in the West and The Shadows, Kith and Kin but since I don’t remember much, it was like a brand new read.
Dead in the West: The Reverend rides into a town that’s in the grips of a curse that makes the dead walk and crave the flesh of the living.
This is the story Lansdale used to introduce his Weird Western character, Jebidiah Mercer. Mercer is a conflicted preacher and is like a western version of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane. He’s also quite a bit like Edward Eredlac’s Merkabah Rider and Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John and I’m getting a nerd chubby thinking about the team up possibilities.
The story is a zombie splatterfest and if I was going to rate the entire book based on the first story, it would be an easy four. The pace is rip-roaring and the writing is pure Lansdale.
Deadman’s Road: On the road to Nacogdoches, Mercer falls in with a deputy and his prisoner and runs afoul of an undead murderer with a beehive in his chest…
This is short story, more like a bump in the road for the Reverend. It relies on mood more than action and gore, through the gore is well written when it splatters on the page. I did notice that the Reverend is wielding two converted .44’s instead of his old converted .36 from Dead in the West.
The Gentleman’s Hotel: In a hotel full of ghosts, The Reverend and a young working woman named Mary prepare for a pack of werewolves to set upon them once it gets dark…
Mercer takes on Lansdale’s version of werewolves. There were some nice touches, like oak hurting them, and the one ghost that was able to talk to the Reverend and Mary. It’s becoming readily apparent that it’s dangerous to be a friend of Reverend Mercer.
Crawling Sky: Mercer wanders into a town and finds a half-wit in a cage being pelted by rocks. Mercer frees the man and the two of them go to investigate the haunt that killed the man’s wife.
This was the creepiest story of the book. An ancient evil someone summoned and trapped escapes and starts eating people. I love the connections to HPL in the Mercer stories. Also, in addition to it being life threatening to be Mercer’s friend, being his horse wouldn’t be a safe occupation either.
The Dark Down There: A mining camp is terrorized by Kobolds and the Reverend aims to put a stop to them.
The final story in the book is a creepy bloodbath, kind of like a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon crawl with guns. Since it actually ends on a positive note, it was a good way to end the collection.
Closing remarks: Deadman’s Road is a fun pulpy collection and Lansdale fans and weird western fans won’t want to miss it. Four easy stars.
Captain Jonas Hollister watched blood-drinkers slaughter his men and wound up with a ten year sentence to Leavenworth. When a senator’s son witnesses similar killings, detective Allan Pinkerton springs Hollister and sends him after the creatures that slaughtered his men. But can Hollister trust the men the senator has sent to watch his back? And what about the mysterious woman following him?
Blood Riders was a fun read, no two ways about it. You’ve got stalwart natural leader Jonas Hollister, his mysterious multi-racial all-knowing kung fu sergeant Chee and his dog Dog, the lovely and mysterious Shaniah, and tons and tons of vampires in the old west. Historical personages, both real and fictitious, such as Oliver Winchester, Allan Pinkerton, and Abraham Van Helsing are also characters. Actually, the vampires are actually Archaics, a species similar to but not the same as vampires. The line isn’t clearly drawn, something Hollister himself remarks upon.
The story is pretty straightforward. Hollister gets out of Leavenworth in exchange for doing some vampire hunting. Carnage and witty one-liners ensue. Hollister and Chee kill vampires by the wagonload using a variety of steampunk gadgets. It reminded me of the first volume of American Vampire a bit.
I liked that Spradlin used the Archaics instead of vampires so he was free to deviate from established vampire fiction as much as he pleased. He also hinted at werewolves and witches, giving further credence to my idea that this would be the first book in the series, something confirmed at the end.
While it was a lot of fun, I couldn’t justify giving it higher than a three. For one thing, I found all the supposed twists fairly obvious, from Shaniah’s hidden background to what transpired between her and Hollister. For another, I at no point felt like Hollister and Chee were in any real danger of failing in their mission despite being surrounded on several occasions.
That being said, I still enjoyed it and I’ll give the next book in the series a shot. Three stars, mostly for the fun factor.
Fistful of Feet
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A drifter named Calamaro drags a wooden donkey into Screwhorse, Nevada, and enters a web of trouble involving people with bizarre fetishes, an ineffective sheriff, a depraved mayor, a rich man and his goons, and a gunfighter called the Hard Candy Kid. Will anyone be left alive when Calamaro leaves town?
Jordan Krall’s Fistful of Feet is the weirdest of weird westerns. There are sexually transmitted tattoos, whores that cater to any bizarre fetish a cowboy may have, a woman nursing a giant starfish, and Calamaro, the gunslinger with the burping gun. Calamaro’s the typical western strong and silent lead. Except for the shoe fetish, I guess. There’s a fair amount of gore and cursing but I think that’s unavoidable in a book of this kind. I loved how syphlitic men were used in a zombie type of role.
Any complaints? Only that it had to end.
As outlandish as the concepts sound, Jordan Krall weaves it all together into a bizarre but coheret plot. There’s some Lovecraftian subtext and homages to various westerns. The only books I can compare it to in terms of tone are the two Joe Lansdale books featuring Ned the Seal, Zepplins West and Flaming London. Fistful of Feet will appeal to fans of bizarro and weird westerns alike. 3.75
I loved this book. It had everything you could ask for in it, and is a great introduction into the world of Steampunk and Weird Westerns. Is it the book to end all books? Will it go down in history as one the best written tales of Mankind?
Probably not. But it’s fun. It’s fast-paced and Doc Holliday is a quick-witted, likable character that I found myself missing anytime he was off page.
The entire series to date has grabbed me and had me eating up every page. It takes just enough history with the right amount of artistic liberties to make the book loveable; it keeps going through your head long after you’ve closed it. I found myself looking up bowler hats and six-guns. It started me on a huge kick into the Weird West and I can’t seem to stop. I highly recommend this book.
That being said, the first isn’t as good as the rest. Perhaps just a slow start? If you’re unsure about this book, go ahead and read the next one. I promise it’ll win you over.
Don’t forget to check out Dan’s other Weird Western reviews over at:
The Merkabah Rider series –
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower –
Is your favorite Weird West novel or series not listed here? Be sure to speak up and leave us a comment either here, or on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/geekinpodcast or twitter @Geekin_Podcast and let everyone know what YOUR favorite Weird Western is!
Check back for more Weird West Week!