Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
This isn’t the same old Wild West. The usual suspects are all present: cowboys, outlaws, and sheriffs. There’s plenty of dust, tumbleweeds, horses, and cattle on the range, but there are also magical gems, automatons, elementals, airships… even dinosaurs and genetically modified insects. Roaming among the buffalo and coyotes, you’ll encounter skinwalkers, mad engineers, mythical beings cloaked in darkness, and lovers who stay true to their oaths… even beyond the grave. On this frontier are those at the mercy of their own elaborate devices as well as men whose control of time and space provides a present-day vision of the West. There might even be a dragon hidden amongst the ghost towns and wagon trains.
If you like your Westerns with a splash of magic, a touch of steampunk, and plenty of passionate romance between men, these genre-bending tales will exceed expectations.
Hold on to your hats, cowboys and cowgirls. The West is about to get weird, and you’re in for a hell of a ride.
Its been quite a while since I’ve read such a strong and outstanding anthology. I can recommend almost every story and most are 4 to 5 stars. Its remarkable. The American West has always been wild but never this weird and extraordinary. In the hands of these authors, they transport the readers and romance into other dimensions and worlds entirely. From steampunk to mages to things supernatural, all the roads to love, however strange and mysterious, can be found here.
I’ve listed them in the order they can be found in the anthology with my comments and ratings.
Reaper’s Ride by Astrid Amara – 5 Stars
Johnny Jenkins loves most aspects of riding for the Pony Express, but the loneliness can be hard to abide. When a raid injures the station keeper at remote Jacob’s Well, Johnny is left alone to tend the incoming riders until a replacement can be found. Isolated and without even a horse to keep him company, Johnny thinks he might go mad from solitude.
That is, until he meets Sye Fairchild, a rider for a different kind of express. This one operates in the shadows, and the deliveries are of a much darker nature. Sye is dashing and kind, but he’s also under a deadline—he’s got to finish his deliveries by Friday, or he breaks a very old and very serious bargain.
And as Johnny finds a kindred soul in Sye, he realizes that soul needs saving—even if it means ruining his own.
Astrid Amara does her normal outstanding job of melding accurate historical fiction with the supernatural in the Reaper’s Ride, one of my favorites. It launches this anthology with a bang and I still have this couple hanging about in my head.
Wild, Wild Heart by Shira Anthony – 5 stars
Al Pennington and Cyrus Reese are both damaged men. Apprenticed as a child to a master who created clockwork wonders, Al now prefers to spend his days on his secluded homestead, toiling over his own fantastical inventions. But when he takes the wounded Cyrus into his home and nurses him back to health, Al realizes he wants Cyrus to stay. Al’s tired of being alone, Cyrus is tired of running, and maybe their time together can be a balm to wounds left by their difficult pasts.
When an outlaw bent on dragging Cyrus back into a life of crime comes knocking, Al is seriously injured. Cyrus must quite literally take Al’s broken heart in his hands to save his life.
Wild, Wild Heart by Shira Anthony makes steampunk inventions believable as she does the men who toil over them. Here a simple sound become ominous, and then joyous. I loved it.
Dr. Ezekiel Crumb’s Heavenly Soul Purifying Elixir by Lex Chase – 3.75 stars
Dr. Ezekiel Crumb’s Medicine Show runs a booming business conning homesteaders with his Heavenly Soul Purifying Elixir. He takes advantage of the gullible, who believe the only way to be purged of their sins is with his moonshine—strong enough to strip paint at forty paces.
When a sandstorm buries his caravan, Ezekiel is hauled to safety and trapped in his wagon. His savior is none other than Levi Everett, his lost love. But Ezekiel put him in the ground years ago, and he fears Levi is the Devil, come to demand atonement for his sins. The tale Levi spins leaves Ezekiel wondering if he’s lost his own soul—or maybe his mind. All he knows is that not even his elixir can heal his broken heart.
I thought this story got stronger the further in I got and loved the ending.
Corpse Powder by Jana Denardo – 4.75 stars
Doctor Isaac Adler came to Virginia City, Nevada, to escape the horrors he witnessed during the War between the States. Despite a living in a thriving Jewish community, Isaac’s having trouble finding his faith… and finding work. Just when he’s contemplating leaving the desert, life takes an unexpected turn when the airship Aurora is attacked by pirates and Isaac is called upon to help the wounded.
The ship’s first mate, Tsela “Alexander” Zhani, is also trying to outrun a nightmare, his in the form of the powerful skinwalker who drove him from his Navajo village. Tsela’s friendship with the handsome doctor responsible for saving the lives of his friends gives both men a fragile hope for a better future. But their demons aren’t as far behind them as they thought.
Corpse Powder blends two religions and two disparate men and comes up with a remarkable romance. One is Dr. Isaac Adler, Jewish and afraid of heights. The other, a flying ship’s first mate, Tsela Zhani, a Navajo being chased by a skinwalker. The imagination shown by the author in not only Denardo’s world building but the battle scenes and the characters is amazing. Another world I could happily have stayed in.
The Sheriff of Para Siempre by Jamie Fessenden – 3 stars
In 1875, Billy Slade is one of the fastest gunmen in the territory of New Mexico, despite his youth. With his lover, Joe Brady, he travels from town to town, hiring out his skill wherever he can—provided the cause is noble. Billy fancies himself a hero defending the common man against bandits and ruffians. But a night of passion gets Billy and Joe run off the ranch they helped defend from rustlers.
In the failing mining town of Para Siempre, Billy’s skill as a marksman lands him the job of sheriff. But the town is run by the corrupt Cassidy brothers, who take a liking to Billy and Joe, and they’re used to getting what they want. When Billy rejects Jed Cassidy’s proposition, Jed challenges him to a gunfight. It’s a fight Billy could easily win—but the Cassidys don’t play fair.
For me, this was the only story I disliked. The writing is good but the story is one that I actually ending up rushing through. From a rape and murder, its sad, bittersweet and left a awful taste in my mouth. Its 3 stars only because the writing is so good. Disliked everything else.
The Tale of August Hayling by Kim Fielding – 4 stars
August Hayling went west following the discovery of gold in California. While most prospectors were hoping to strike it rich, August was more interested in a place big enough to let him get lost. Sitting alone in a saloon, he is approached by a peculiar man named Georgios Cappadocia, who offers August a fortune in gold if August will come along and help him fetch it. August soon learns that his strange new employer is engaged in some kind of ancient dispute. And when they arrive at their destination, both men will realize that not all treasures are golden—and sometimes destinies can be changed.
Ah a Kim Fielding story! I never know which way its going to go. This time its whimsical. I sort of guessed at the identities of the characters but that didn’t take away my enjoyment of the story. Extra bonus? Features one of my favorite fantasy creatures!
Time Zone by Andrew Q. Gordon – 4.5 stars
Some people possess gifts that allow them to change the world. For Wesley Blake, it’s all a matter of time. He can stretch a handful of seconds into a whole day. But his ability hasn’t saved Wesley from being hurt by others. As a field agent for the Department of Gifted Americans, Wesley throws himself into his work to forget that he is alone. The only person Wesley trusts is his handler, Lothar.
Then a vital mission brings a new partner, Eric, who refuses to let Wesley shut him out. As they train for their assignment, a friendship builds between them. Wesley cautiously lets Eric into his life, until he learns Eric and Lothar lied to him. Betrayed and angry, Wesley struggles to control his powers, and when things take a dangerous turn, even Wesley might not have enough time to get out with his life.
Another strong story. Time Zone and Andrew Q. Gordon delivers great characters and a fascinating world. Wesley Blake in particular, a vulnerable gifted man with a dependancy on his handler Lothar, who he’s never met. How the story unfolds, its revelations, including the spectacular one at the end? It kept me involved and connected to Wesley and his path to love. Outstanding story.
Get Lucky by Ginn Hale – 5 Stars
Pinkerton detectives, saltwater crocodiles, the Borax Brothers, and the sinister Swaims: seems everyone is out to get water mage, Lucky Spivey.
Lucky Spivey just wants to pay off his dead father’s debts and forget about the gunslinger who left him waiting at the stagecoach station three years before. But when he stumbles across a handsome Pinkerton detective in mortal peril, he can’t abandon the man to his fate, and all too soon Lucky finds himself in a wild chase filled with magic, murder, and a triceratops or two. Surviving the marshlands might mean working together with a disturbingly familiar gunslinger….
Ginn Hale had me at Lucky Spivey. What a wild ride! Mages, crocodiles, swamps and a lost love returned. I really wanted so much more at the end. If you’re listening Ginn Hale, bring Lucky back and his beau too.
From Ancient Grudge to New Mutiny by Langley Hyde – 4 stars
In the small town of Wilson Creek, two handsome lovers, destined for death at each other’s hands, attempt to end their families’ Shakespearean feud over precious magical minerals.
When James Caplin, inventor of a new magic-detecting device, returns home after graduating from Hinton’s Academy for Boys, he’s looking to have one last hurrah with a handsome cowboy. But he discovers not only that his handsome cowboy is Frank Montgomery, the son of the Caplins’ hated enemies, but also that the Montgomerys are accused of stealing the Caplins’ precious illudine, a rare magical stone. When the argument between the Montgomerys and Caplins becomes heated, James and Frank are expected to settle the matter with a duel. If James doesn’t want to put a bullet in Frank, he’ll have to recover the illudine, reveal the thief, and end a centuries-old rivalry… and he needs Frank’s help.
Romeo and Jules with Alchemy. Another neat twist on the Romeo and Juliet tale with a M/M twist and turns. I wish I had more background on the world but it was fascinating in the bits and pieces the author set out.
POMH by Venona Keyes 4 .5 stars
Lorem Farcome makes inventions that cater to the working class. He dreams of a lost chance in love and a lost apprentice. The lost love he can do nothing about, but an apprentice, he can surely build. With a rare red prism, Lorem creates and animates his assistant, dubbing him “Pomh.” The road never runs smooth, and a wealthy and powerful competitor, Markus Reighn, accuses Lorem of stealing the red prism and claims Lorem’s mechanical man for himself. But an odd-looking prospector might hold the key to clearing Lorem’s name and giving Lorem his true heart’s desire.
Lorem has lost someone and he makes wonderful inventions. He finds a rare prism, and something miraculous occurs. Venona Keyes takes us on a steampunk journey of lost love and heartbreak and miracles. Its one to be treasured, a standout in a collection of standouts.
Oh, Give Me a Home by Nicole Kimberling – 5 stars
Corporate terraformer turned social justice worker, Gordon gave up a good living to pioneer New Saturn, where the ranges are as vast as they sky—just the way Gordon likes them. Together with his partner Henry, Gordon herds the ankle-high genetically modified insects, which deposit crucial bacteria into the soil so the ground can one day be farmed. But when rustlers strike, the barren beauty of the frontier turns deadly, and Gordon must risk everything to keep himself and Henry alive.
Nicole Kimberling has long been a favorie of mine, especially her Bellingham Mysteries. Here you have an established couple Henry (born earthbound) and Gordon (born in space) and their herd of bugs each with their personalities. Yes from Screwloose to Queen Esther, you’ll be falling in love with these terraforming bugs too. Kimberling gives us the complete world, including Gordon’s space born physiology and what that must mean when it comes to making love or even existing within quarters with gravity. A stunning story all around.
Gunner the Deadly by C.S. Poe – 5 stars
Special Agent Gillian Hamilton is one of the top magic casters in law enforcement. Sent to Shallow Grave, Arizona to arrest a madman engineer responsible for blowing up half of Baltimore, Gillian isn’t expecting a run-in with notorious outlaw, Gunner the Deadly.
Gillian and Gunner become temporary teammates when it turns out they’re after the same man. The Tinkerer will stop at nothing to get rid of the two so he can steal the town’s silver mines and build an army of steam machines to take down the country. If facing Gatling guns, airships, and magic wasn’t enough, Gillian must also struggle with the notion that he’s rather fond of his criminal partner. But perhaps a union between copper and outlaw isn’t so weird out in the wild and lawless West.
Gillian and Gunner and a madman on the loose in a steampunk world. Its wildly imaginative, its fast paced, and its romantic. Loved it.
After the Wind by Tali Spencer – 5 stars
Plagued by drought and raids from hostile Comanches, the West Texas frontier is a hell of a place to carve out a living. Twenty years ago, a mysterious disaster devastated the Llano Estacado and cursed the survivors with supernatural abilities over Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. The Anglo government promptly outlawed these powers—and they’re willing to pay good money to anyone who turns over an elemental, dead or alive.
When rancher Micah Dawes desperately needs water for his herd, he strikes a deal with two unsavory bounty hunters for the services of a chained, blue-haired water elemental named Rain. Micah pities Rain, but he has to play his cards close to his chest—because Micah, too, survived the Wind, and the reason he always wears a hat is to hide his glowing red hair….
We end up this extraordinary collection with a strong story. After the Wind by Tali Spencer. Is the Wind an environmental foreshadowing? Whatever the cause the devastating effects on the human and animal population is swift and brutal. Genetic changes for the remaining populations in some areas that cause them to be hunted and killed for their properties. Its heartbreaking and Spencer brings that out in vividly described passages and the character of Rain.
The story is stark and yet, full of hope at the end. Its a perfect way for Once Upon a Time in the Weird West to come to a close. But these characters? They will continue to stay with you for some time yet. What great stories! What marvelous world building. More, I want much, much more. I highly recommend this anthology. Its one of the best I’ve read and it will in my Best of 2016 List!
Cover Artist: Nathie Block. I just love this cover. Eye catching and works for the stories.
ebook, 400 pages
Expected publication: December 16th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634779185 (ISBN13: 9781634779180)