There’s a new reviewer in town. Claire Fayers squares off against the latest offering from fantasy and horror writer Gary Greenwood. Who will be left standing?
Western crossovers seem to be gaining in popularity. First we had Western-martial arts comedy (Shanghai Noon), then Korean Western (The Good the Bad and the Weird). Cowboys and ninjas fought in The Warrior’s Way and, as I write this, Harrison Ford is doing battle in Cowboys & Aliens.
Kingston to Cable by Gary Greenwood takes the Western, shakes it up a bit and dumps it in a fantasy setting. The world is one of isolated towns separated by vast expanses of inhospitable territory and the opening scene is the most classic of all Western classics: a stranger rides into town.
Or, rather, a Stranger. In Kingston, Strangers are a recognised class – wanderers with names such as Slake and Hook and Justice. They stay in the town Station, drink in the town bar, stay for a few days or a few weeks, and move on. Some of them are pursuing their own agendas, some just appear to enjoy causing trouble. Many are reputed to have magical powers, which explains the townspeople’s reluctance to get involved with them.
The first few chapters of the book are more like linked short stories, each giving a different glimpse into this world. As the story progresses, however, the action becomes more sequential and a set of main characters emerge. From the time that a Stranger arrives in the town of Cable, changing the life of one townsboy forever, to a grand climax in the town of Kingston, the story wends its way through a tangle of superstitions, religions and gods all completing to come out on top.
There is much to like in this book. The Western setting works well and the opening chapters set up the main themes with broad and dextrous brush strokes. The gradual unfolding of a mythology is good, as is the nature of the gods – minor deities rather than grand, omnipotent beings – but one thing that bothered me was the lack of motivation in both people and gods. Some characters appear to act almost entirely without cause and for others the motivation, when it becomes clear, falls a little flat. This wasn’t a problem in the early chapters when we are getting random glimpses of events but as the story began to pull together I wanted to be more interested in the characters, to care more about whether they succeeded or failed.
I did find myself struggling to ‘place’ the world at times. The strong Western flavour made me assume that this was an alternative 19th century America. It soon becomes apparent that the geography is completely different, and yet one of the gods come directly out of Christianity and another comes out of Norse mythology. So is this an alien planet with remnants of Earth history, or is it an entirely imaginary fantasy realm that just happens to share some similarities with our own history?
I think it’s best taken as the latter and accepted for what it is without asking too many questions. If you can do that, the book is a good, fast-paced read combining some interesting ideas with plenty of blood-soaked action scenes, all served up with a scattering of pure weirdness.
Title: Kingston to Cable
Author: Gary Greenwood
Publisher: Pendragon Press