Right to the point, today it’s The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins. What caught my eye about this one? It’s tagged as “True Grit meets True Blood.” Genre mashups, hell yeah. The supernatural undead and the Wild West. Yeah, I’m sure it’s been around a bit. I’ve heard the term Weird West before but I’ve never really seen in the forefront before. There was that CCG, Doomtown from back in 98 that had an RPG with it. The only other thing I’ve seen recently is a short story in Saladin Ahmed‘s Engraved on the Eye collection. So even if the undead – Wild West mashup isn’t really new, it’s new to me.
Second thing, it’s Angry Robot Books. Anything they put out is on my radar automatically.
Back of the Book time!
Cora Oglesby and her husband, Ben, hunt things – things that shouldn’t exist.
When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious, bloody deaths out in the badlands, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible. But if she is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, Cora must first confront her own tragic past.
Pretty short and kind of vague, eh? The Dead of Winter is a book that is difficult to talk about without giving away spoilers. Right around the 2/3 mark of the book, I got to a point where I yelled “Holy shit!” right in the middle of my office. (Lunch break reading gets me through the day) I then laughed with excitement over the fantastic storytelling move Collins pulled off. I think it must have been difficult for him to pull off so perfectly but the payoff was worth it. There’s a part of me that feels bad for even mentioning that such an awesome moment exists. It caught me completely off guard. But in this case, I think I need to let people know that such a deft storytelling coup exists in order to show just how awesome this book is. I have a serious desire to high five Lee Collins.
Like I said, got to keep this somewhat vague, just like the back of the book, or I’ll ruin it too much.
One aspect where I can talk specifics without ruining the book is the main character, Cora Oglesby. Reading a woman main character has never been a thing to me, frankly it shouldn’t be a thing to anyone. A strong character is a strong character regardless. But in this case, a female demon hunter in the Wild West is different than a female demon hunter in a modern urban fantasy. In the post-Civil War west, women gunslingers were not common. Mad Cora Oglesby has enough of a reputation as a bad ass though that she runs across more people who want to one-up her to bolster their own rep rather than get squeemish about her being a woman. Her reputation as a bad ass is fully earned too. In her backstory, Cora and Ben had been fighting the occult for years. When Ben came back from the losing side of the Civil War, they had no work in Virginia and went west to play bounty hunters. But it was a flooded market so they ended up taking a job from a helpful priest to fight some black magic witches.
The backstory alone would make for a great novel. Her quest in Leadville, as vague as it is here and on the back of the book, is not outshined by the backstory. I tore through The Dead of Winter real fast. There was a lot of movement in the plot without ever being too frantic. The last act in particular is powered through the sheer force of Cora’s personality.
The Dead of Winter is the kind of genre blending book I always want to see more of. The Western tropes and the horror tropes stand together to make something new. And after reading in the SFF genre for almost twenty years, new get very rare. More importantly than how fresh the tropes are, Cora Oglesby is a fantastic, drunken, bad ass heroine, scars and all.