Review: Once Upon a Fang in the West

Once Upon a Fang in the West by John Dover (Not A Pipe Publishing 2021)

The Braided Pony saloon is no stranger to gun fire and blood stains on the floor. But when a mysterious gunslinger turns up dead in Ruby’s room, it’s up to the town’s drunken sheriff to investigate. Lucky for him, Samuel, a fast-talking vampire, arrives looking to settle a score and attempting to resurrect his dead friend. Now they’re on the hunt across the rocky plains of the Wild West to recover the life that was stolen.

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My review:

The name of the town is the first clue that this isn’t your typical Western. The frontier outpost of Thrall has all the expected accoutrements: saloon complete with rotgut whiskey and ladies of the night; livery stable, mercantile, schoolhouse, and church; drunken sheriff haunted by a past mistake; mysterious stranger; oh, and vampires.

Samuel, an ancient vampire and necromancer, is hunting something worse, a monster that preys on his kind and humans. He has tracked it to Thrall and persuades the sheriff to join the hunt by freeing him from the ghost that has haunted him for 15 years. With nothing better to do, the ghost comes along for the ride. Samuel resurrects Finn, a powerful vampire with whom he has a complicated relationship. There follows a lot of ridin’ and shootin’ and bloodshed.

I enjoyed Dover’s assured use (and subversion) of the expected tropes of both Western and horror fiction. The characters are developed well beyond cardboard, yet remain true to their roles. I was particularly fond of Jesse, the ghost of a youth cut off before manhood, who uses his afterlife to learn and grow and see the world. I also loved the old-fashioned innocence of the chapter titles that baldly state what is coming next while carrying ominous overtones.

Recommended if you like a loving sendup and can stomach oceans of gore.

I received an advance-reader ebook from the publisher.

Review: Tooth & Claw

Tooth & Claw by Michaela Thorn (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Vampires.

The Man in the Moon’s bloodthirsty children forged from his scorn.

Shifters.

Mother Nature’s fearless, noble servants, who risk death by bite in their constant struggle to keep the vampires at bay.

Macy’s entire life has been devoted to Mother Nature and upholding her glory, despite Macy’s incompetence as a shifter. When she’s bitten by a vampire but doesn’t die from the venom, everything changes. Overnight, she becomes one of the monsters she reviled. Severed from her girlfriend, her people, her home, and her faith, everything is called into question.

And then the Man in the Moon whispers about something even more terrible lurking on the horizon.

My review: Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be a new take on the YA vampire novel, along comes Tooth and Claw to flip the script. For one thing, it’s not a romance, though there is love. This is a thriller driven by every human emotion, though humans barely appear in the story. This is a tale of justice deferred, with potentially world-ending consequences: timeless, yet perfectly of our times.

Macy is a young wolf shifter about to take the examination that will determine her place in the pack. Her prior attempts went poorly. If she fails a third time, she will be stuck as a lowly omega, separated from her beta girlfriend and an embarrassment to her parents. She’s feeling anxious and useless, and then she’s bitten by a vampire. Everyone knows shifters can’t be turned, so she resigns herself to death. When she regains consciousness as a vampire in a walled vampire coven far from home, she’s not thrilled to be alive. Vampires are the hated enemy that shifters were created to control. How can she be one? Gradually, she makes friends with other young vampires who have their own harrowing stories. Macy begins to question everything she was taught about evil vampires and virtuous shifters as she learns about centuries of cruel domination … and experiences it herself. Then she discovers she is the second of two Prophets. Her annoying new friend Nico is the other, and they are both having dire visions. They will have to work together (with each other, and with other vampires and shifters) to defeat a radicalized rogue vampire and his Wormwood League before he can complete the ritual to bring about the end of the world.

Throughout the page-turner of a story, Thorn paints her scenes with beautiful descriptive language—unusual in a thriller, but understandable when you know she’s also an artist. She also did a lovely job developing the mythologies of the shifter and vampire cultures, the former revolving around Mother Nature and the latter around the Man in the Moon. Shifters can not only transform to wolves, but are born with a Marrow Mark that is more than decorative—it becomes a magical weapon when the shifter makes contact with their Grounding, an ancient shifter spirit residing within but only reachable with effort. Magic is hard won in this world. Macy’s frustration with it is relatable, as is the tale of domination leading to uprising. May we humans learn something from the monsters.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Pre-order your copy today from your local independent bookstore. Find it using IndieBound.org.

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