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Gunfighter Gothic Volume 0: Blood of the Universe Paperback – June 20, 2012
About the Author
Mark Bousquet is the Assistant Director of Core Writing at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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That quote sums up what I love about Blood of the Universe, Volume 0 of Mark Bousquet's Gunfighter Gothic series. It's a snappy piece of writing and more importantly, it tells the readers that this is a world where the bizarre and unexplained is more or less an every day occurrence. Prevailing wisdom seems to be that when you enter a world like the one Bousquet's created, you need to hold the reader's hand, explain why all this weird stuff exists, or give you a character who's more used to the real world.
I'm tired of that. As a reader, I have no problem being thrown into a world with vampires, zombies, werewolves, and time travel. I've been around the block a few times, don't insult my intelligence by making me go through the whole "why do these pale men have such sharp teeth?" thing.
Fortunately, Bousquet knows better. And he's given us a tale in a genre that I absolutely love -- the supernatural western. Combining these things together makes even the stale conventions of the separate western and supernatural genres feel fresh and new.
A little bit of info on the book's story: in 1866, Jill is a well-to-do merchant's daughter who was engaged to be married and ran off. By her side is her family's servant and her sometime-lover, the Korean-American Hanna. Trying to start a new life, the girls get thrown right into trouble when they came across vampires, werewolves and a time traveling British spy on their train.
And then Bousquet does something really interesting. Jill, who one might assume is the central protagonist? She dies. Writing a book about a duo and killing off one of the partners in the opening pages? That takes balls. At first, I thought I must've read it wrong.
Jill's death drives a large portion of the book, with Hanna now teaming up with two time travellers and an agent of President Grant. All of them are after something called the Universe Cutter, a knife with the power to resurrect the dead.
Hanna is a great character. I'm a sucker for female protagonists, especially in a traditionally male-dominated literary field like westerns and pulp. Not only is she a woman, but she's a woman of Korean descent, which is great because minorities, particularly Asians, have gotten the real short end of the stick in pulp, dogged by extremely racist stereotypes. Bousquet seems pretty well-aware of this and he avoids any of the traditional clichés -- Hanna is not a kung fu master, she's not a dragon lady, she's not a math whiz, and most importantly she doesn't speak "rike dis." She's a very capable gunfighter, born and raised in America. Whenever someone comments on her country of origin, she always remarks that she's American-born. Asian Americans and Asian immigrants weren't exactly well-regarded during the late 1800s, so it's definitely an interesting period for a character like Hanna.
Bousquet's writing pops all throughout. The dialogue is real, even when in these unrealistic situations and the action moves at a brisk pace.
Unfortunately, for all the good in Blood of the Universe, there is a bit of bad -- namely the technical aspect. In the Kindle edition, there were more than a few errors throughout, even some parts where Hanna was incorrectly named as Jill (and that was a cause for confusion more than once). These errors mostly amount to a distraction at worse, so don't let that deter you.
Overall, we've got an impressive start to what I hope will be a long-running series.
Gunfighter Gothic Vol 0 gives the readers an introduction to an alt-history supernatural western in which factions, time travelers, vampires, werewolves, cultists, and all manner of strange creatures range across the old west, in varying states of secrecy. It's a riotous romp with lots of action and starkly drawn but believable characters. A few thoughts:
- This is a book for people who appreciate a fast pace and a writer who doesn't waste too much time "sign posting" every detail in the book. Instead, he lets us stew in the mystery of the world for a bit, letting the reader gather by context what another writer might explain explicitly.
- Like Dan Butcher's Dresden files books, Bousquet creates a world in which all mythologies stand together at the table, and regular people are strangely clueless (or perhaps aware, it's unclear). It seems that once someone is part of the mystical secret underworld, though, they're hardly phased by cave-dwelling lizard men or a secret vampire plot to raise a Nazi army to take over the world.
- The time travel aspect of the book is not as detailed as I would like. We learn, over the course of the two stories, all about the few people given the power to travel through time, but we also learn relatively little about how time travel works in this universe nor about the creature / being who gave them time travel in the first place. This is likely intentional, I suspect, as it prepares us for future novels.
- My favorite faction in the novel were the sun-chasers, a pack of vicious cultists who devastate their own bodies in their worship of the sun and who run rampant across the West, killing and recruiting like the Reavers in Joss Whedon's Firefly universe.
- At the same time, the book, which focuses on two tales from the world, often sacrifices character development for action scenes, leaving the emotional arcs of the characters relatively little room to develop among the gunfights. As much as I enjoyed the action of the book, I would have liked to see a few more interludes in which the characters have time to develop.
Gunfighter Gothic is an enjoyable read, even if it's a bit more action-oriented than I'd like.
(Full disclosure: Bousquet offered a free copy of the eBook from his website last spring, and I obtained the book through that giveaway.)