Title: Once Upon a Time in the Weird West
Authors: Jamie Fessenden, Andrew Q. Gordon, Jana Denardo, Kim Fielding, Shira Anthony, Tali Spencer, Venona Keyes, Lex Chase, C.S. Poe, Nicole Kimberling, Ginn Hale, Astrid Amara, Langley Hyde
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 400 Pages
Category: Historical Americas / Mystery/Suspense / Other Paranormal / Steampunk / Urban Fantasy / Western
At a Glance: Go read this one, guys!!! Honestly, one of the best anthologies I’ve read.
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: This isn’t the same old Wild West. The usual suspects are all present: cowboys, outlaws, and sheriffs. There’s plenty of dust, tumbleweeds, horses, and cattle on the range, but there are also magical gems, automatons, elementals, airships… even dinosaurs and genetically modified insects. Roaming among the buffalo and coyotes, you’ll encounter skinwalkers, mad engineers, mythical beings cloaked in darkness, and lovers who stay true to their oaths… even beyond the grave. On this frontier are those at the mercy of their own elaborate devices as well as men whose control of time and space provides a present-day vision of the West. There might even be a dragon hidden amongst the ghost towns and wagon trains.
If you like your Westerns with a splash of magic, a touch of steampunk, and plenty of passionate romance between men, these genre-bending tales will exceed expectations.
Hold on to your hats, cowboys and cowgirls. The West is about to get weird, and you’re in for a hell of a ride.
Review: Weird West, indeed! I enjoyed this book so much, you guys. Once Upon a Time in the Weird West is a collection of thirteen short stories which were all based on the same prompt, “Once upon a time in the weird west…” With a couple of exceptions, the prompt was awesomely brought to life. These stories capture the west in cool, strange, and extremely imaginative ways. I did have the usual thoughts one might have going into an anthology…wondering which would be the strongest stories…if there would be any that didn’t work for me…But, I’m happy to report that, at least on some level, all the stories worked for me. In fact, I didn’t want the book to end.
Astrid Amara starts things off with a bang with her reimagining of the Grim Reaper in the fantastic Reaper’s Ride. Johnny has no idea what is going on with the handsome, mysterious Sye Fairchild, whom he sees every evening at the Pony Express outpost he is stuck at for a week. His reaction when he first considers the truth is fantastic:
‘Of course, the idea that Sye was some sort of grim reaper was absurd. The reaper was a mythical character. And if he were real, he wouldn’t be some dashing young American blond with cowboy boots and dimples when he smiled.’
I loved where Amara took the story, and Sye and Johnny’s relationship. And, there was some fabulously cool and spooky imagery. Reaper’s Ride was one of my favorites for sure.
The next group of stories had diverse and likeable characters, as well as interesting premises. Shira Anthony’s Wild, Wild Heart was pretty straightforward steampunk. Al is a clockwork tinkerer who has taken in Cyrus, a wounded outlaw. Al and Cyrus were sweet and I enjoyed the writing; but, aside from the brief inclusion/mention of ‘outlaws’, it didn’t necessarily scream Western. Lex Chase’s story, Dr. Ezekiel Crumb’s Heavenly Soul Purifying Elixir, on the other hand, did have a great Western feel. I loved the medicine show premise. Levi was pretty damn sexy. And, I liked the epilogue a lot. Then we had Corpse Powder—which gave us Dr. Isaac Adler, a Jewish doctor trying to find his way in post-Civil War Nevada, and Tsela, the Navajo first mate of the privateer airship, Aurora. Isaac and Tsela go through some intense, airborne battles together! I definitely loved the diversity of this one, as well as the romance and drama.
After the excitement of emergency heart repairs, deadly sandstorms, and fighting pirates, things slow down a bit in both Jamie Fessenden’s The Sheriff of Para Siempre and Kim Fielding’s The Tale of August Hayling. Both of these stories touched me in different ways, and had unexpected twists. I really liked Joe’s voice in Jamie Fessenden’s story. It was very authentic, and lent it that perfect, personal edge. Joe and Billy’s love jumped off the page. They just wanted to live their lives in peace. Together. But, here come the asshole Cassidy brothers. *heavy sigh* The ‘weird’ in this one actually snuck up on me. I kept wondering when it was going to get weird. And then boy, did it. The Tale of August Hayling was touching and sweet. And, I adoooored August. This one was a little tougher for me to get into, initially, for some reason—I think I just didn’t connect with George—but, I completely dug the ending.
Time Zone by Andrew Q. Gordon was sort of the odd man out for me here. In terms of storyline and characters, I liked it. It had a lot of good moments, and I liked the dynamic between Lothar and Wesley. The idea behind the story was a good one. BUT—there were no Western elements at all. This was modern day San Diego. I’m just not sure how it fit into the anthology.
Things get right back on the Western track with Ginn Hale’s Get Lucky. This was, for me, one of the best stories in the group. And, one of the weirdest! Which is absolutely a compliment. 🙂 This world is mind-bendingly cool. Dinosaurs, mages, theurgists (yes, I had to look it up), gunslingers, Pinkertons…there is a lot going on here. Lucky is a water mage who runs into and helps rescue a mysterious yet very familiar gentleman in the marsh. I loved both Lucky and Dalfon, and would read more about them and this world in a heartbeat.
Next up we have a fun reinvention of the Romeo and Juliet storyline from Langley Hyde, a very sweet steampunk tale from Venona Keyes, and a cool sci-fi short by Nicole Kimberling. From Ancient Grudge to New Mutiny gives us the dueling Caplin and Montgomery families, and the star-crossed lovers in the middle, James and Frank. I love me some handsome cowboys, and these two were on fire. I liked the premise—though, some of it, like the collars, could have maybe used a bit more explaining—but the ending felt a little too abrupt. I would have liked to actually see it play out rather than how Hyde handled it. Keyes’ POMH was very imaginative and really sweet. I liked Lorem and the rest of the characters a lot. And, I really enjoyed all of the great inventions. And, Oh, Give Me a Home gave a whole new spin on homesteading and new frontiers. Kimberling’s characters were excellent, Gordon’s backstory was so interesting, and I liked Henry and Gordon’s romance and relationship very much. I wish the story had been a bit longer.
Rounding out the collection were two of my other favorites: C.S. Poe’s Gunner the Deadly and After the Wind by Tali Spencer. I hadn’t previously read either of these authors, but I’m sure that will change in the future. Poe’s was another fun premise. Magic-wielding special agent Gillian and outlaw Gunner the Deadly are both hired to go after the same dangerous, criminal mastermind. And, I have to say, Milo ‘The Tinkerer’ Ferguson was pretty diabolical. He definitely kept Gillian and Gunner on their toes! And, finally, perhaps my favorite of the whole bunch, After the Wind. This was such a fantastic and beautiful story. It had a fabulous Western feel, and I was so drawn to these characters. Micah and Rain, both elementals, tugged my heart immediately. And, I loved, loved the backdrop for the story, and the relationship with the Native Americans. I loved everything about it. This one gave me a serious ‘Awwwww…’ feeling.
So, go read this one, guys!!! Honestly, one of the best anthologies I’ve read. An amazing collection of spec fic. I’m so glad Kim Fielding and Ginn Hale dreamed up this collaboration and got this group of storytellers together. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
You can buy Once Upon a Time in the Weird West here: