About the Book
Bastard. Killer. Husband. Father.
His wife cold in the ground, and two young boys to feed, Wil Cutter turns to what he knows: Violence. But a bounty is never just a bounty, and blood is never spilled in drops. Forced to ever more violent acts, he’ll have to ask himself: Is Hell too far to ride?
204 pages (kindle)
Published on February 29, 2020
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This book was sent by the author in exchange for an honest review.
I am a big ol’ Weird West fan. I don’t think that needs to be a secret. I live out here in the west, and I see so much from history and the like that is just ripe for the plucking, waiting for some author to see it, and turn it into an amazing story. Weird West fantasy is my bag. It doesn’t tend to get a ton of attention in the genre, and I think that’s absolutely criminal. A really good fantasy western is every bit as exciting and gripping as anything else you could ever read.
Basically, if you aren’t reading this subgenre of fantasy, you’re really missing out.
Now, for reasons of transparency, you should know that Clayton Snyder is someone I consider a friend. I also think he writes some absolutely masterful fantasy and is one of those criminally underrated authors that you really all need to read more of. I’m not just saying that because he’s my friend. I read his books before I ever had personal interactions with the guy, and my opinion of him as one of the most talented, unjustly underrated authors stems from a time before I went to yell at him daily on a Discord server. However, I’m billing this as a book review, so you should know my potential bias before we move along.
Cold West was a book that had me interested the moment he started posting snippets of it on Facebook. Here was a Weird West fantasy, written by an author who has this ability to weld language like a hammer when he needs to, and like silk when he chooses. I knew that Snyder would take a western setting and own it. His aggressive writing style is made for a book like this. Further, this book weighs in at just over 200 pages, so maybe a longer novella/shorter novel. It gives him less time to get into the tone and setting, to drop all the backstory. He needs to get in, and get out pretty quick, and leave the reader with one hell of a story in the process.
I knew all of this before going into the book and I thought, if anyone can pull this off and leave me reeling, it’s Snyder.
They say when a man meets the love of his life, all the mean goes out of him. Sometimes in small bits, like venom leaving the blood, sometimes in great rushes, like an open artery.
Cold West is a really interesting book, in the fact that there is a lot of violence and pain that is the driving force moving the plot forward, but if that’s all you see, you’re overlooking so much. One of the things that I love about Snyder’s work, is how he works on numerous levels. The guy is really, really smart, and it seems that even in his everyday interactions, he’s never sticking to surface level. He seems to understand deeper ramifications, emotions, and themes more than most other people I know, and he brings all that into his writing.
The book begins with Wil Cutter losing his wife to illness, and being left behind with her memories, and two small boys to take care of. Instantly, the feel of loss and emptiness is vivid, stark, and well-realized. It’s these emotions that I’m teasing at in the previous paragraph. There’s a lot of action in the book that makes the surface of the story very exciting with relentless forward motion, but if you’re overlooking the loss and heartache, the quiet emptiness that fuels the entire thing, then you’re really only seeing a fraction of what Cold West is actually about.
The world building is also interesting. Usually in western fantasy, you expect a more western setting. Expansionism, the western motion of men into uncharted lands and the like. In this book, there is a feel of that, but there are also hints of something else. Something atypical, and eye-catching. Dukes and lords are mentioned. Holdfasts exist. Airships. Ghosts and nulls, hints of magical elements. All of that is decidedly not what you’d expect in a book with this setting. And, to be honest, that’s part of what intrigued me. Furthermore, there’s a hint at more. A hint at all sorts of things that are just beyond the immediate scope of this book. That hint, that tantalizing more, gives readers a sense of depth and well-rounded, fully-fleshed world building that really worked quite well for me as I read. This is a book all on its own, but it’s also set in a world that was vivid enough for me to easily picture more being written here.
I blinked, saw the ribs of an airship, long covered with sod and lichen jutting from the ground. Ivy wrapped around the struts and bright pink flowers the size of my fingernail bloomed there. A crater filled with rainwater. The skeleton of some horror the Nulls had brought into being. Ghosts at the edge of my vision.
The setting of the book is truly simple, and delightfully so. Essentially, Wil Cutter’s wife dies, leaving him with two boys, no money, and a farm he has no real ability to work. However, Cutter’s past was a violent one. He is good with a gun, good with a knife, better with violence, sucks at farming. After his wife dies, a bounty is called on some people. A visitor comes to tell Wil of this, and Wil, realizing he needs money and agrees to take this task on. Leaving his sons behind for a week, maybe two at the most, he starts off to do something that is pretty straightforward and ends up anything but.
Wil’s voice is unique and unforgettable, as tough and hard-bitten as the land he inhabits, and I was instantly pulled into his story and the way he told it. I love strong, character-driven fantasy, and Cold West is exactly that.
The oddness of this book sort of creeps up on you. From hints of unique worldbuilding peppering the pages throughout, to the slow, if somewhat predictable start, Snyder lets the plot itself, the thing that makes Cold West so absolutely addicting, sneak up on you. It is pulse-pounding. It is graphic and violent. There is a lot of blood, but don’t forget those emotions from above. He crafted the book with that particular spine, and there is a reason for that. Under all the guns and blood and adventure, the core of this book is truly about the human condition, about love and family, and in an odd way, even redemption.
And yes, there are humorous moments as well. If you know Snyder at all, you know his books are absolutely never free from snark.
I suppose you’re expecting a great love story here. Maybe some great change she made in my life that pulled me from the blade and the gun. Sorry, just solid love and good sense. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Cold West is a quick read. At just over 200 pages, it should be illegal for a book this short to pack this hard of a punch, but it did. Clayton Snyder is an author to watch. I suggest you get reading.