Jett is a girl disguised as a boy, living as a gambler in the old West as she searches for her long-lost brother. Honoria Gibbons is a smart, self-sufficient young woman who also happens to be a fabulous inventor. Both young women travel the prairie alone – until they are brought together by a zombie invasion! As Jett and Honoria investigate, they soon learn that these zombies aren’t rising from the dead of their own accord … but who would want an undead army? And why? This gunslinging, hair-raising, zombie western mashup is perfect for fans of Cowboys vs. Aliens and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.
You can read an excerpt here.
This book is just…eh. There’s nothing about it that overtly offended me – I liked the idea of a zombie infested western, with a sprinkle of steampunk on top (think Wild Wild West) – but all in all it made for a pretty bland trope soup. This isn’t a bad book, per se, but it’s not a good one either; rather Dead Reckoning firmly belongs to the cheesy B grade western category, and really it all comes down to whether you like that sort of thing or not.
I should probably admit, between Brisco County Jr. and The Young Riders (two fairly terrible TV shows that I nonetheless loved when I was eight), I have a built-in soft spot for this kind of western cheese, which is why I was mildly entertained by this book, even as I couldn’t help but ruefully note the archetypes that kept marching onto the page. First we have Jett, the gunslinger who just happens to be a girl-disguised-as-a-boy, who of course talks tough, draws fast, and wears a big hat. Second we have White Fox, a white man who of course was adopted by a Native American tribe as a child; he talks softly, can track anything, and lives with one foot in both worlds. Lastly we have Honoria, a genius girl inventor who travels by steam-powered carriage, who of course knows just about everything about everything and can do any kind of scientific experiment at the drop of a hat. (Sigh.) As I said, this book is hardly what I’d call original on the character front, but even so, there was something fun about the language of these characters, from their old-world turns of phrases (what in the Sam Hill is that?) to their Yankee vs. Confederate sentiment, and even in their inevitable science vs. gut feeling arguments. I wish it had all been enough to overpower the tropes – but sadly it wasn’t.
As for the story, it starts off quickly enough – it doesn’t take twenty pages for the zombies to shamble in – and it definitely capitalizes on its frontier setting, but it just never really goes much of anywhere. I did really enjoy the lonely isolation of the eerily empty town, and how our heroes were most definitely on their own, the only people around for miles and miles – it added a nice sense of danger to the proceedings – but as for the mystery plot, well, honestly, it wasn’t much of a mystery. There was pretty much one suspect, the investigation involved a bit too much grating scientific snobbery on Honoria’s part, and the answer as to how to stop the zombies all came down to lay wisdom. But still, the zombies were menacing in a fun way, and there was plenty of sneaking and spying and saving-the-day. It’s just that, when it all came down to it, there really wasn’t a whole lot to the who, what, or why behind the Evil Plot – and frankly, most of it was revealed via the Dastardly Villain’s monologing (mustache twirling definitely would not have been out of place) as opposed to our heroes’ sleuthing. All in all the story was definitely a bit silly, and fairly shallow, but I did roll with it.
In the end, this wasn’t a book entirely without merit – the setting was gorgeous, the action fun, and the zombies deadly – but there just wasn’t much to it all in terms of story, or character. Frankly it’s pure fluff, and it definitely pales in comparison to Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels. So as I said before, Dead Reckoning isn’t a bad book, but it’s not a good book either – it’s cheesy, trope-y, and overly familiar. I did finish it easily, but after I closed the back cover I found myself firmly neutral, not for or against, but not particularly impressed either. Still, if you feel like a mindless B-grade western zombie read, Dead Reckoning definitely fits the bill.
Byrt Grade: B
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
The best aspects of the book are its distinctive characterizations and the incongruity of zombies in a historic milieu, but the world is more interesting than the story. A novel take on historical fiction that nevertheless disappoints.
With strong, fully-realized characters, a great mystery, and good pacing, this should have been a really good book. I’m having trouble putting a finger on why it wasn’t, quite…even once I figured out what the book was–essentially a murder mystery, with zombies–I still couldn’t quite get into it.