Bastard. Killer. Husband. Father. His wife cold in the ground, and two young boys to feed, Wil Cutter turns to what he knows: Violence. But a bounty is never just a bounty, and blood is never spilled in drops. Forced to ever more violent acts, he’ll have to ask himself: Is Hell too far to ride?
“Pain’s a poison well, not to be shared unless you expect to kill another’s spirit.”
I’m very tempted to leave just two words as a review for this book – Visceral, and Vivid. This is my first exposure to the subgenre ‘Fantasy Western’ and it was every bit as enjoyable as it was intriguing. Somebody on Twitter mentioned the paperback was available for 5$ on Amazon now and I snatched it up immediately. After finishing the book though, I would have paid much more.
This book should come with a disclaimer for violence. I think it is the darkest and most brutal book I’ve read all year. And that is absolutely delicious if you’re a grimdark/dark fantasy aficionado… Bleak world – check, dark themes – check, conflicted protagonist – check, but also horses – check, trains– check, gunslinging – check, bar scene – check, and finally revenge, betrayal, pain – well except for some brief interludes there is not a single page where either one of these three or sometimes all three aren’t present.
The book basically answers what if Red Dead Redemption was set on a magical dystopia and to borrow from Gen Z, Wil Cutter (the protagonist) is giving a darker alternate universe Arthur Morgan. One of the most well written characters, in typical grimdark fashion he’s a bad man amongst worse men. We start to root for him because he’s suffered an injustice but he’s written so realistically and so undisguisedly that we do double takes often. But it is all very compelling though (who doesn’t love following someone on a ruthless revenge tour).
The opening sentences basically sum up how the story is going to be –
“They say when a man meets the love of his life, all the mean goes out of him….,, I don’t know about that. I do know when that person’s gone, it starts to slip back in, a knife in the heart.”
Anybody who’s looking for a protagonist going back to their ruthless older ways in a moment of grief or because of a traumatic event (fans of John Wick/Equalizer/Nobody) – this book is perfect for you. Cutter does some truly horrible stuff to survive but one simply can’t stop reading and I think it is due to how strong the writing is.
The writing is taut, there is no purple prose but it is beautiful all the same. I have read books with great writing where the world and action scenes are written so well that I’m able to picture each scene clearly, but to me in this one the setting and vibes came alive as well. This is as best as I can describe it I guess; I really enjoyed it. Absolute highlight for me. The emotional and psychological beats of the main character are on point. It doesn’t have a very linear structure and there are quite a bit of flashbacks. I have complained that this sort of stuff is a bit jarring for me in some other books, but in this book it only added to my immersion.
The world and magic system again are really good. It has a unique magic system that I don’t fully understand the extent of but it is done very well. There’s no hand holding and it is all revealed slowly but interestingly. At first I thought it was something small, but then it became amazing when I discovered the actual cost of the magic system. The world is a post war wild west with devils, shamanry, and a religious crusade. I am particularly enamored with the ‘western’ atmosphere and I’m itching to read more western + fantasy now. If anyone has any recommendations, I’ll take it (cookies if it has trains.)
“A man can be broken any number of ways, but the easiest is to let him rise just a little above his birth, then tear it away.”
While it was extremely satisfying for the most part, the ending felt very par for the course. It kind of took me out because everything else about the book up to then was non-conventional or had some twist. It kind of became a fever dream but in a very confusing way. It might have been an attempt to synchronize the story with the mental state of the MC but it didn’t work very well for me. Even with my reservations about the ending, this book has definitely left a striking impression. It blends fantasy + western + horror expertly. I am definitely going to read more by this author and have already picked out my next Clayton Snyder book.