Friday, October 17, 2014

Western With A Twist, Part 1: Books

Beneath the Canyons
To set the mood for the release of Beneath the Canyons, Book 1 of Daughter of the Wildings, a high fantasy series set in a world inspired by the wild west, I'm going to take a three-part look at books, movies/TV shows, and music that puts a twist on the traditional western. The mythos of the Old West - the wide-open, lawless frontier, the desolate and mystical landscapes,  the confrontation between good and evil, self-reliance, individual freedom and responsibility, the struggle to survive, and characters who are trying to make a new start in life, or find justice, revenge, redemption, or just a ton of riches, have made for a rich body of exciting stories, and easily lend themselves to other genres. For the "Western With A Twist" series I'll mainly be looking at western mixed with fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction, which also share a lot of the same traits - new frontiers, confrontations between good and evil, the struggle to survive, characters torn away from their origins who are on a quest. But I'll also throw in a few other things as well, to offer up a wide variety of western-themed entertainment to satisfy all tastes! (Note: Amazon links go to all international sites, and use my affiliate link. Image and title links go to Goodreads.)

First up, books.

I've had a hard time finding Western-themed works that fit my definition of "high fantasy" (and the definition I'm using for Daughter of the Wildings): fantasy set in an entirely different world from our Earth, with no reference to the real world, involving magic as an important plot element and a struggle between good and evil. But there are a few that come close, and there's plenty of other stories that fit into the Western With A Twist theme out there; "Weird Western" is a big trend, as is western paranormal romance (my own definition of paranormal is set in our world and dealing with things like ghosts, demons, vampires, etc), western steampunk, western alternate history, and western science fiction. Here's a rundown of some books and a web comic I've found that fit the bill of Western With A Twist. 

The Gunslinger
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: When talking about western-fantasy, this is the first thing most people think of. I agree, with qualifications. The first book, The Gunslinger, is very much fantasy in feel, and focuses on the western-like world of Roland Deschain. Book 4, Wizard and Glass, which I'm stuck halfway through, is also pretty straightforward western-fantasy. I'm having a hard time finishing it, partly because I know it can only end in tears (I'm all about happy endings) and because the 14-year-old kid having lots of sex kinda puts me off. I'm told Book 5, Wolves of Calla, is more fantasy-western, as well. Books 2 and 3 (which I've read) take on more paranormal and science fiction elements, and spend a significant amount of time in the modern world. Book 2 was good, though not at all western, and more paranormal than straight-up fantasy. The last two books, according to the information I've seen, mainly take place in the real world, and from the descriptions and reviews I've read, the series seems to go weirdly off the rails and this point (Stephen King is a character in at least one of them) and the ending sounds like something that would incite me to heave the book (or my Kindle, as the case may be) against the wall. King's books that I've read tend to have that effect on me, which may be why I haven't read very many. But if you want fantasy-western, The Gunslinger is worth reading. [Amazon]

The Haunted Mesa
The Haunted Mesa, by Louis L'Amour: By one of the grand masters of classic western novels, this book explores what might have become of the lost Anasazi people of the southwest. I consider it paranormal rather than high fantasy, since it's set in our world and deals with things like ghosts and alternate dimensions, but I read it many years ago seem to remember enjoying it a lot, so it belongs on this list as another personal recommendation. [Amazon]

The Alloy of Law
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson. Set in the same world as Sanderson's Mistborn series but in a later time period reminiscent of the late 19th century. High fantasy, and definitely with a western-type feel and setting, and has definite steampunk elements. I've enjoyed all of Sanderson's work I've read so far, including this. Personally recommended. [Amazon]

Dragon Wrangler
The Buck Johnson: Dragon Wrangler series by Wyatt McLaren: Cowboys, wrangling dragons. On a distant planet. What's not to love? Short, funny, entertaining fiction that's a perfect blend of western and science fiction (the dragons are actually large flying lizards native to the distant planet). Personally recommended. [Amazon]

The Hunter
The Hunter (The Legend Chronicles, #1) by Theresa Meyers: This was suggested in a thread on Goodreads looked for fantasy-western recommendations. Mainly paranormal romance set in a steampunk version of the real world 1880's old west. Colt hunts for demons and other evil creatures; Lilly is a succubus he summons to help him on a search. She's ordered to take his soul; she has her own plans. I'm currently reading this one, and so far it's lots of fun. [Amazon]

Native Star
The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson: Also recommended on that Goodreads thread. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my too-read list. Also paranormal rather than high fantasy. [Amazon]

Have Gun, Will Play
Not fantasy or science fiction, but also western with an enjoyable twist:

The Mick and Casey stories (Have Gun, Will Play; A Fist Full of Divas; The Curse of Scattershale Gulch, and two stories in the Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! collection), by Camille LaGuire. Young married gunslingers Mick and Casey McKee solve mysteries in the old west. Mick and Casey are great characters, the old west settings are beautifully conveyed. If you enjoy putting together the pieces of a mystery in a different setting, try these. Personally recommended. [Amazon]

Bailin'
Bailin', by Linton Robinson. Crime caper set along the modern-day Texas-Mexico border, but with a very old-west feel to it. So funny it had me laughing in the dentist chair while I was waiting for the hygienist to come in and get to work. It has gunslingers, bounty hunters, a desperado in the person of a town treasurer who makes off with the stadium fund, and modern-day banditos (the two-man motorcycle gang Flathead and Bogart, the world's most inept drug smugglers). Also personally recommended. [Amazon]

Next Town Over
Not a novel but a web comic/graphic novel:

Next Town Over, by Erin Mehlos. Follow the mysterious Vane Black as she pursues rogue sorcerer John Henry Hunter across a fictional world based on the Old West. Western high fantasy with a good dose of steampunk, an intriguing story, and really cool art. Personally recommended. Read for free or buy collected volumes for your tablet or in paper
at http://www.nexttownover.net/. (I read them on my Kindle Fire.)

Finally,
check out Raymond Cook. Straightforward westerns (not with a twist), but I've met the author online and he's a genuinely nice guy and has an inspiring story of following his dreams of writing despite serious injury and disability. I haven't read any of his books yet, but he's definitely on my to-read list.

If you have any recommendations for books that are western with a twist that aren't listed here, please put them in the comments!

Next time: Movies and TV

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