RogerBW's Blog

Dead Reckoning, Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill 30 October 2019

2012 steampunk western fantasy. In 1867, Jett Gallatin is a gunslinger searching for his brother who went missing after the War; White Horse is a civilian scout attached to the Union Army; and Gibbons is a scientist and inventor. All of them arrive in the town of Alsop, Texas, just as the zombies attack. But who made that happen, and why?

This is an oddly bloodless book. I don't mean in terms of gore, though that's quite light too; I mean that the level of emotional involvement is somehow lower than I'd expected. Jett is a young woman disguised as a man, Gibbons is a female advocate of Rational Dress, and White Horse is a survivor of a wagon train attack raised by Indians (and the book always uses that term, with an apologetic foreword; I think that's reasonable, as anything more modern would be awkward). But nobody ever gives Gibbons a hard time for her sex, or White Horse for his ancestry; when Jett has to resume female dress as part of the investigation, she agonises over it, but that's about it.

Part of the problem is that they're pretty much the only characters in the book; there are one or two more small parts, including the villain, but the principals never seem to converse with anyone except each other, and of course they are all instantly tolerant and understanding of each other's social foibles.

Another part is that, although there are some hints that some of them find others attractive, nobody acts on it, and at the end of the book they all go their separate ways with hardly a backward look.

All of this is a shame, because if that side of things were a bit stronger this could be really quite good. Yes, all right, there's an Evil Preacher in best Lackey tradition (and nobody says the thing that could excuse this, which is that if you're in the USA and you want your cult to be socially accepted, you pretty much have to dress it up in Christian trappings). But the villain has an actual plan, and it's one that even more or less makes sense, as well as being tied into the era such that it's more than mere scenery or local flavour.

I felt that there was something I was missing. Is this part of a series? (Goodreads says not.) Was it dashed off in a hurry to pay the bills? It's simply shorter and more sketched-in than what these authors have done before; very light and fluffy and undemanding for the reluctant young reader, perhaps, but both Lackey and Edghill have done very much better. Indeed, if I thought this were representative of their quality, they wouldn't be authors whose names I regard favourably.

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