The Wild West has always been an imaginary country, a myth that mixed fears and hopes into a romantic view of the world that fuelled the expansionist dreams of the Robber Barons, fed the hopes of the dispossessed unable to thrive in the choked cities of the East coast, and over-wrote a history of genocide, corporate violence and religious warfare with more palatable stories of brave frontiersmen and women, laconic cowboys and gunslingers turned lawmen.
The Wild West myths are now being revisited, in the same way that Grimm’s tales are being retold, to display the things that were hidden or to make the myth speak to modern sensibilities: ‘Whiskey When We’re Dry’ and ‘Paradise Sky’ and ‘True Grit’.
Over the past eight years or so, I’ve watched the emergence of a new ‘Weird West’ genre that braids together Urban Fantasy and Supernatural tropes with the myths of the Wild West to create alternative histories, spiced with magic, monsters and modern views on justice and honour, for example: ‘The Curse Of Jacob Tracey‘, ‘Dead Acre’, ‘Dread Nation’, ‘The Deathless Divide’, ‘The Devil’s Revolver‘ and ‘An Easy Death’
I have fond memories of travelling through the wildly beautiful landscapes of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, so this week, I’ve decided to head back into the Weird West.
I’m continuing with the adventures of Gunnie Rose and finding out what happened to her after ‘An Easy Death’. I’m trying out a one-off Weird West novel about an honest lawman and the outlaw ‘Grizzly Queen Of The West’ that he becomes entangled with that’s been in my TBR pile for way too long. Then I’m taking a ride with a man whose quest for revenge is interrupted by an unexpected encounter with prehistoric monsters.
It should be a fun week.
‘A Longer Fall’ by Charlaine Harris (2020)
I first met nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Rose in ‘An Easy Death’, the first book in a series set in an alternative America where history diverged after Roosevelt’s assassination. This is a fractured America that has lost land to its neighbours and has seen twelve of the original colonies ally with Britain. San Diego has become the home of the Holy Russian Empire after the Tsar fled there with his priests, his magicians and his army in 1918, Elizabeth Rose, is a “gunnie” making her living providing armed protection to travellers across the now largely lawless West.
In ‘A Longer Fall’ Gunnie Rose finds herself in Dixie where her normal outfit of jeans, a shirt, a rifle and a brace of Colt handguns is unacceptable. I’m looking forward to seeing how she handles the whole wearing-a-dress-and-being-respectable thing and I really want to know what is in the crate she was hired to protect.
‘Make Me No Grave’ by Hayley Stone (2018)
‘Make Me No Grave‘ appeals to me because it seems like a clever twist on the normal Western tropes with a bit of magic mixed in. I like the idea that the main character is a strong woman who is also, by the standards of any Western, not a hero. She’s definitely the one in the black hat. Teaming her up with a too-honest-for-his-own-good lawman seems like a recipe for fun.
I’m also intrigued because Hayley Stone’s previous books were a post-apocalyptic, humans vs a malevolent AI Science Fiction trilogy. ‘Make Me No Grave’ sounds like new territory for her and sometimes that releases a lot of creativity.
‘West Of Prehistoric‘ by Erik Testerman (2020)
Erik Testerman is a new author for me. I became aware of him when he visited this blog. I knew he’d published some novels. I took a look and found that he’d written an alternative history trilogy set in the West in 1888 and that it had dinosaurs in it. I read an extract on Kindle and thought, ‘This I have to try.’
Here’s how the book opens:
Circling buzzards made the killing field easy enough to find.
Soldiers’ bodies lay scattered for a half mile across open prairie. Mangled, crushed, gnawed on. They’d made a running fight of it, but were slaughtered anyway. A dozen men. Armed with the finest weapons and equipment since the War Between the States. Trained and experienced in fighting Indians, rustlers, and outlaws. For all the good that did them.
All I could find were a couple of dead apes and a single wounded triceratops. Sending the squad out had been the Lieutenant’s decision. I didn’t blame him. He didn’t have a choice. But with the loss of these men, our low chances of survival dropped even further.
Turning my horse around, I touched heels to his flanks, leaving the weapons for the Indians to find. They were going to need them.
As for me?
My name is Jedidiah Huckleberry Smith.
And I’m probably going to die as well.
I’m hoping that Jedidiah has some interesting things to show me and that I’ll want to read the entire trilogy to see what happens to him.