I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
When I first received this novel, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a fan of Western based stories and the last one I had read that was fantasy based was Blood Red Road, which was good but very unusual. I went into this story with more than a little apprehension and a lot of bias, I will admit it. However, after reading this novel, my opinion on Western fantasies has been completely changed and I am hooked to this series!
Nettie Lonesome is a half-breed who would much rather be a boy than a girl, who is treated like a slave by people who act as her “adoptive” parents. Life is not kind to her, and Nettie does the best she can in her circumstances. Then, one day, a stranger attacks her, a stranger who cannot be killed easily, not even with a sickle to the eye. In desperation, Nettie stabs him in the heart with a chunk of wood, which results in her attacker bursting into black sand.
And with this one death, Nettie can see like never before. Now, she can sense what others hide underneath the surface of their skin. The world is full of monsters that come in all different forms, and can only be killed in extraordinary ways. Haunted by spirits, Nettie is forced to set out on a quest for revenge that may just lead her to her true family…. if the monsters don’t kill her first.
Let me begin by saying that I have never been a fan of novels that are based on the American west. I’ve never found them interesting, and I never really liked the slang words used and the constant presence of males and their guns and the horse riding. Yes, I know I complain a lot, but I have my preferences! However, I enjoyed the way the author wove this fantasy novel in this setting. It worked far better than I ever expected and I feel like it also allowed for various issues like gender, and race to be explored in great detail.
The main character is absolutely fascinating and multifaceted. The depth of Nettie’s character and her internal dialogue and conflict makes her one of the best protagonists I have ever read. This is one of those times when a coloured person has been depicted in an absolutely perfect way, while also ensuring that the colour of the skin isn’t the only issue at hand. Nettie struggles in determining where she belongs on so many levels. Not only does she not know who her people are, she can tell from the colour of her skin as well as the way others treat her that she doesn’t belong among the white people. However, she also recognizes that she doesn’t belong (and doesn’t WANT to belong) to the female gender group; she constantly mentions how much happier she would be as a male and how much more comfortable she is in that gender role. I haven’t really read any book that has a protagonist who struggles with gender identity, and I quite liked seeing that aspect. I also thought the author did a really good job in exploring Nettie’s sexual identity, as well as that of other characters. Often I find that authors try to show their support for the LGBTQ community and incorporate a romance with those elements, but it usually fails in authenticity (or for other reasons). Not here. The author portrayed the relationships and feelings in a very realistic way that flowed with the rest of the story.
Now onto the story itself. In this book, Nettie comes face to face with monsters that we are both familiar with and also completely unaware of. Even those that we know of are not presented in the usual way. This was so refreshing. It was so awesome to be able to read about vampires and werewolves and all sorts of other magical creatures/monsters and see them as being unique, rather than just the same old thing. While most people would peg this down as just one more “quest” tale at first glance, reading it will completely change that opinion. There is so much more going on and this “quest” isn’t just simplistic. I could continue to ramble on about this book forever but I won’t. Suffice to say that this novel will take your love of fantasy to a whole new level!
Overall, this was a fantastic fantasy novel. I don’t usually produce raving reviews, but when I do, you know I’m not exaggerating. There wasn’t a single thing that I felt the author could have improved on. I loved the storyline, I loved the characters, I loved that it was more than just about romance or about killing evil things. There was real depth to this story and it pulled me in straight away. I was also fortunate enough to receive the ARC for the sequel, so keep your eye out for my review!