Posts Tagged Firefly

Review: The Magpie Coffin

The Magpie Coffin Cover

I was kindly offered a review copy of this book by the publisher, but decided very quickly to buy it in order to support the author.

I rarely read Westerns. I’ve known many who do – often ex-soldiers, for some reason –  but while I enjoy the occasional Clint Eastwood movie, my experience with them is minimal.

I finished this book in two days. That’s only because I a) had other work to do and b) wanted to not consume it all in one quick gulp!

Salem Covington is an ex-soldier, having survived the American Civil War intact in body… but not in soul. We discover that he and his brother made a deal, and he has to follow through on that. His legend is notorious, and when he walks into a bar, the scar on his face means only fools challenge him (and of course, they do).

But that’s only part of the story. Salem spent a whole mess o’ time (yes, he speaks like that) learning what could be called ‘magic’ from his local Native tribe – and the tale begins when he learns that his esteemed teacher has been killed by A Right Gang of Bastards.

So because his deal means that he can’t be killed by any bullet except that from a particular gun, and as the titular Black Magpie he has to avenge his teacher’s murder, he grabs up the body (coffin and all), acquires a random sidekick, and sets off to fulfil his task.

This book has the subtitle of ‘A Splatter Western’, and yes, it’s gory in places. But I think that’s actually a misnomer. I’ve studied American history, and this book seems to nail the cynical attitudes and yet ‘interesting’ sense of honour held by folks in the (very) Wild West at that time. A war has ended that saw more people dead than any other in history, until World War One. People are doing their best just to get by. Violence is a familiar neighbour.

Salem tells the story, and while you sometimes get the urge to wince at his actions, it can’t be argued that he’s absolutely justified in what he does. He may be a Bad Man, but those he fights are so very much worse. By the end, I was cheering him on.

Given my limited knowledge of the fictional West, I admit to seeing parallels between this and the TV show Firefly. That carries an undercurrent of desperation as well, survival against the odds, and doing what has to be done, even when it seems foolish or dangerous.

The atmosphere, though – it’s akin to Silent Hill. The wilds of America are, to me, parallel in storytelling to the moors in Britain, or the forests of Europe. This place absolutely has its own character, and its own spirits.

Salem’s no hero, by his own admission. But he’s the one we’ve got – and by the conclusion, I was sad to see him ride off into the sunset. I very much want to know what he gets up to next.

The additional quirk of including Native tribal magic means you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. Is the corpse talking to Salem, or is he imagining it? Does it matter? And if it didn’t, where did that bear come from?!

This is an excellent tale, engrossing and memorable. It deals respectfully with the spirits of the Old West, be they Blue, Grey or Red, and every character is well drawn. I was especially pleased to see some strong women arrive in the narrative, even if they weren’t always the most pleasant. Assume nothing about anyone in this book.

Absolutely recommended, and already looking forward to what this fine gentleman writes next.

‘The Black Magpie’ is published by Death’s Head Press, and is available from all the usual bookstores, in paperback and ebook.

 

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Review: ‘Deus Ex Mechanic’

Deus ex Mechanic cover

‘Deus Ex Mechanic’ is the first full-length novel by Ryann Fletcher. I was kindly provided with an early ARC, but have promised an unbiased review.

This book has had a difficult birth. Originally scheduled to be hitting shelves (and ereaders) last year, it was delayed due to the publisher unfortunately closing down. The author took the brave decision to self-publish… and I’m very glad that she did.

We are taken on the journey of Alice, a humble mechanic in a future where humanity has colonised the galaxy and potentially beyond. We see a little of her life deep in the bowels of an enormous starship – where she’s busy working on the boiler with her trusty wrench. For this is science fiction, but with a generous slice of steampunk thrown in. Shiny and space-age on the outside, messy and basic underneath!

The action begins quickly, as Alice is kidnapped during an explosive incursion by a pirate crew led by Captain Violet. And if you know anything about this book, the sparks that soon fly aren’t just those in the boiler room.

The universe-building is intriguing, and definitely drew me in. There are clear parallels with the benevolent socio-political framework of ‘Star Trek’, with hints of the ‘Warhammer 40K’ fascistic society – but let’s not hide the obvious. This is a loving wink at ‘Firefly’, with a hierarchical ruling political body being quietly opposed by small groups of active pirates and folks just looking to survive.

Alice faces the dilemma of the ‘safe’ captivity of her regular role within the not-Federation, versus the freedom and danger offered by the crew of the ‘Cricket’. It isn’t an easy decision, and the pirates each have their own opinions on their new mechanic. It’s not ‘hard’ sci-fi, instead absolutely its own engaging form of space-opera drama.

The characters soon become like old friends. I was again reminded of ‘Firefly’, with its tiny-but-unique gang of criminals, but the Cricket is definitely its own beast. I found myself mentally casting a TV series as the book went on, because I so wanted to see the action-packed adventures of Violet, Ned, Hyun and the rest.

The story moves along fast, with pleasant pauses in the action to allow breathing room for relationships to develop… before jumping back into Major Peril again! It’s tremendous fun, moving smoothly from one incident to the next, but never feeling rushed. We know why everyone acts as they do, and are keen to see what happens as events unfold.

Also, this isn’t ‘just pin a cog on it’ steampunk. I was so glad that the universe seems organic (so to speak), without any hand-waving technobabble to make the plot progress. Pipes and boilers must be maintained to make starships run. Whole worlds of people rebel against the wider accepted society just by living their lives. Freedom under threat is preferable to (comparative) luxurious captivity. Literal Steam-Punk.

I understand that a sequel is already complete, and am very pleased to say that I can’t wait to see what shenanigans Alice and Violet get up to next. A fantastic first novel. Definitely recommended.

‘Deus ex Mechanic’ is available on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etcetc.

Note: Because the in-person event had to be cancelled, Ryann is kindly holding an online Launch Party tonight on her YouTube channel. I’ll be there!

 

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