Publication Date: July 24, 2015
Source: Available from Amazon
Length: 253 pages
Summary: A lone horseman, his face hidden behind a mask, approaches the town of Steckland, trailing death in his wake. For two years he has searched, hunting down the man who took everything from him and left him for dead, but now the hunt is coming to an end. Somewhere in this God forsaken town he is hiding, but he will be found and he will be made to pay. But little does the horseman know that not only is he not alone in coming to Steckland to see Crait die, but Crait’s being here is no accident. He has a plan of his own and all three will collide, with a price that even the horseman may not be able to pay. (Source: Amazon product description).
Short Version: This classic Western tale of a vigilante after justice has some colourful writing, but its grim and graphic depiction of violence, particularly sexual violence, was too strong for my tastes.
Longer Version: As I remarked a couple of hours ago on Twitter, this is the first review I’ve written that comes with a genuine, not-being-a-smartarse-here warning. I will be discussing the book’s heavy content in some detail.
I’m completely ambivalent toward Westerns as a genre, and on a plot level I really liked how cleanly written this was – the horseman’s obsession with the villainous Crait is strong enough to hold the story, and the writing itself is colourful and vivid (though Llewellyn seems too fond of similes. All of his similes are nicely observed, original, and at first made me smile, but there’s a veritable avalanche of them. When it comes to colourful figures of speech, less is always more.)
The story arc showed few surprises (though there’s a mild sting in the tail of this tale), but that’s part of its appeal – we watch Westerns primarily to see our heroes ride into Dodge and shoot a bunch of guys who’ve wronged them. In this basic sense, the story is completely satisfying.
But it’s almost impossible to like anyone in this book. I was confused as to who, exactly, I was meant to be rooting for. While I’m sure Llewellyn didn’t mean him as a cleaner-than-clean hero, the horseman quickly becomes, in my view, possibly just as evil as Crait.
He asks Isabella, a girl who is fifteen and maintains she’s only a “dancer”, to entice a drunk man upstairs as if she is going to sleep with him. She begs him, and he promises more than once, to get her out of this situation before it turns to actual sex. He is hiding in the wardrobe when this drunk man brings her into the room. Then, for reasons not fully explained, the horseman stays in the wardrobe and watches the screaming girl being violently raped. He rationalises that she’s a “whore”, and “whores deserve it.”
“Whore” and “bitch” are constantly and viciously flung at this girl, even after the horseman is apparently sorry for setting her up to be raped. (He tries to apologise by giving her a bracelet. She’s moved to tears. I was nearly moved to puke.) He also regularly hits her, or threatens to hit her.
And then we are supposed to buy that he’s had an epiphany and really valued her after all? No, no, no. I’m all for morally grey characters, but this one was a step too far. Isabella is subjected to the most violent, terrifying, degrading treatement by just about every single man in this book, and I just don’t buy that the horseman was any better than any of the others in how he treated her.
The violence depicted in this book doesn’t offend me, as such – I have a fairly high tolerance for gore – but the sheer repetitive nature of it quickly became a drag. Crait murders pretty much every single character he has a simple conversation with – some for absolutely no reason except “he’s evil”. It became, well… boring. There was no tension in any of his later interactions with people. I knew from previous chapters that it was a matter of not if, but when, he was going to slit a child’s throat or shoot a baby dead in his cradle.
END OF SPOILERS
If that’s not your kind of party, you might prefer to give this one a miss.