I had asked Twitter what their favorite books of the year have been and I picked up a few along the way, this is one of those books! The recommender described it as hilarious, which caught my attention since I’m always down for a comedy. I have sat down to write this review like ten times and I keep going, “but this doesn’t really capture the book. Try again.” I’m struggling because it’s odd and there’s a lot going on by the end, lol. It’s good though, so let’s see how well I can do it justice.
Up front in the very first paragraph you know there’s going to be a comedic element to the book, so for me it had a strong start and promised to deliver what I wanted. I did have to start chapter one over again (audiobook) because it just drops you in the middle of an action scene, and sort of an odd action scene at that, where not much was explained. I was like, “woah, wait, what?” and started over. That’s fine, I prefer that style over exposition, but I did need to be paying attention.
This follows a town marshal, Faust, who deals with a lot of bullshit. Blackpeak is a fairly typical Texas mining town equipped with the quintessential local saloon, brothel, town doctor, marshal, and the mayor. The normal sort of stuff you’d expect… up to a point. Small town drama has been leading to deaths. A stranger with a British accent comes to town and shakes things up. His name is Cicero and trailing behind him, tracking him is a really pissed off one-armed man who Cicero robbed for nearly 1000 dollars in the 1800s. That’s a giant fuck you. Now, he did it because this one-armed guy is a fuckass extortionist who was taking advantage of innocent people.
Things keep getting stranger as someone named the Magnate comes into play who is sort of outside of time/reality? Stranger still, sand golems and mysterious figures start appearing and even more deaths occur leaving Faust shaken despite his toughened exterior built up over years of violence. Thankfully for the marshal, Cicero backs him up and gets him out of some tight spots and they make for a good odd couple/duo. If you follow my reviews you’ll know that’s my kind of pairing, I love a good foil.
I don’t know if this is just some trend with Westerns, but I rarely know what’s going on outside of the town and surrounding area. It’s almost always a really intimate focus as far as locale, which is fine, but it again creates this sort of island effect which is something I’ve mentioned before. That said, Blackpeak itself is very well realized and atmospheric.
It took me a while to warm up to Faust, and I’m not really sure why? I did eventually come around to him as the book went on and I got to know him a bit better. I guess there’s just nothing super likeable about him, and he can be fairly stubborn which can make it frustrating to read about him. Faust is definitely a greyer type MC where he’s not clearly a hero. He says as much that lawmen and outlaws are more or less cut from the same cloth. He doesn’t think about killing, he just does and moves on. He’s accused of being bloodthirsty but really more than that he’s pragmatic. What has to be done to keep the peace will be done, but I wouldn’t say he relishes in the aftermath. Cicero’s character was entertaining but his introduction was really odd, lol. Cicero is a bit more peppy and makes jokes throughout which would nearly make him the comic relief but I didn’t quite see him that way since he was also kind of a serious dude. He kills repeatedly to keep Faust alive and has done so before arriving in Blackpeak.
Although there were comedic elements to the book I would not call this a comedy, it can be pretty graphic and dark at times. There are moments of levity which keeps it from becoming oppressively dark where I’d typically DNF. There was a very distinct style to the writing, and I think it’s one of those marmite things where it has a strong flavor that you’re either going to really like, or really bounce hard off of it. It’s not just the western dialect in the dialogue, but the narrative prose is stylized too. The dialogue was believable despite being a tad bit bantery/monologuey like westerns tend to be. I found the western dialect was deftly done and not overworked. In the narrative there’s a lot of simile/metaphor used to build imagery versus raw description of people and places. I’d also say there’s a fair amount of “turns of phrase”, or clever/witty ways to provide information. I would not describe this as a straightforward writing style and yet still it was very easy to get into and I’d describe the prose as easy breezy. That’s fairly difficult to do, so high marks for writing.
The pacing was pretty slow for me at the start, though. The first few chapters felt kind of broken apart, like they were just point A to point B kind of stories and I was really beginning to wonder what this book was about other than the adventures of a marshal which felt like a serialized western show. That’s fine, but that’s not really what I look for in a book. I was about to DNF when the plot kicked in about the same time the magic ramped up and things got exciting for me.
As a personal note, I really wish westerns would focus on a different kind of character. Of all the Westerns I’ve read (admittedly not a ton) lol but they’re ALL lawmen of some kind. I’d love to get the view from the town doctor, grocer, prostitute, outlaw? Anywho, that’s just a me thing.
Overall I’d recommend this to people looking for something really different, something a bit eldritch, something a bit supernatural and strange. A violent world with violent problems with violent men trying to solve them.
- Plot: 10/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 12/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Originality: 13/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 77/100