So, my first review in several months. It’s been a busy start to 2015. However, I have managed to fit the odd book in, here and there. I have a glut of reviews to post this week, so let’s begin with a story that goes outside of my normal ‘preferred’ genres. For me, one of the trickiest genres to produce creative material for is the Western. Films are usually hit and miss, TV shows very rarely attempt it and writing? Well, it takes some skill to pull it off. When Coyote: The Outlander came across my radar, a western that skews steam punk and science fiction into its narrative core, I was intrigued. I had read Chantal Noordeloos before, so going into this book was an experience before I even turned the page. I was excited on a rare day off. She does horror effortlessly…so how could she fare in this combined genre territory?
The good news? She does brilliantly. Within the first chapter, I was hooked. Coyote, the namesake of the book, is a female bounty hunter in a very male orientated age. Transcending the Wild West with her best friend and comrade, Caesar, the duo are at constant battle with ‘Outlanders’, a species of enemy from a different dimension. Gaining access to Earth via ‘rips’, a portal between worlds, The Outlanders provide Coyote with a daily, more supernatural challenge and, in my opinion, something unique to the story. Unpredictability.
The problem with combining genres is cliché. It’s so easy to fall back on them if you make an effort to merge two very different genres, both of which have a dedicated following. Chantal, wisely, does not do this in Coyote. Sure, she throws in the battle of her fellow men – those who take offence to a woman and an African American (Caesar) muscling in on their bounty hunter patch and finances, a normality for the time and setting – but Chantal does this with brazen aplomb. The dialogue is witty, seamless and actually helps develop the characters before you. Coyote is the ultimate smart mouth, a woman with pure confidence behind her firearm, but with doubt, demons and insecurity in her personal life, away from the hunt. Caesar is the quiet, brooding sidekick who is the Yang to Coyote’s Ying. As a duo, they rival Butch and Sundance for one of the more memorable western couples in recent years.
Then, there is the unpredictability. This comes, mostly, in the form of the Outlanders. The duo’s mission takes them on various adventures – finding a particle gun, facing up to various cowboys, an excellently written ‘trip’ sequence within an Indian camp – which not only bring you along as a third person (it’s almost as if you’re sitting on a horse right next to them), but also help expose the characters. Coyote and Caesar, and even the supporting cast, have a rich and varied history, one that is explored in pain staking detail. To reveal that now would ruin the experience for you. Then there is the steam punk element. Robots, steam powered vehicles, firearms that just don’t exist in the Wild West – yet they fit. Chantal doesn’t overexpose this tricky sub-genre, more teasing us then drowning us in the technology which, in all honesty, could have ruined the story. It’s a true testament to the ability of the writer, one who has done her research.
Which is the biggest pro of all: This story is a character piece. Yes, we have robots, non-stereotypical characters and monsters from another world, but they are background elements, plot devices used to put our characters in perilous positions. Chantal sprinkles a little horror on the proceedings here (a ‘rip’ opening in a cornfield is a particularly gripping scene) and takes our characters to the edge of darkness. The history of these characters is also gradually explored, which comes full circle in their motivations. The unpredictability of the set pieces makes you fear for the characters on every turn. This is a result of the rich character development. By the 30% mark, you feel you’ve known Coyote and Caesar for years, like old friends. This knocks C:TO up a level, bringing you into their world, which keeps you turning the pages.
Is the story perfect? No, but it’s not far off. True, the odd character is a bit 2-D – which is always a risk in a Western backdrop – and the odd mission seems a little unnecessary. Sometimes, you just wish Caesar would say a little more. But, this is a first chapter in a (hopefully) long and prosperous series. These niggles can be ironed out in further, more extensive chapters. Jack Reacher and James Bond weren’t nailed on their debut, so the writer has nothing to worry about. The characters are just finding their feet and they’ve hit the ground running in style. Coyote: The Outlander is a solid piece of entertainment, combining genres effortlessly to create a unique and very enthralling tale of death, revelation, self discovery, and technological uncertainty. We also get a sexy, sassy, bad-arse heroine, the best sidekick since…well, take your pick, and a universe with unlimited potential and intricate characters. The Outlander is a first, solid chapter – bring on the second, third and fiftieth. Recommended.