Dust City by Robert Paul Weston – Review

Book Jacket:

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

His son, that’s who.

Ever since his father’s arrest for the murder of Little Red Riding Hood, teen wolf Henry Whelp has kept a low profile in a Home for Wayward Wolves . . . until a murder at the Home leads Henry to believe his father may have been framed.

Now, with the help of his kleptomaniac roommate, Jack, and a daring she-wolf named Fiona, Henry will have to venture deep into the heart of Dust City: a rundown, gritty metropolis where fairydust is craved by everyone-and controlled by a dangerous mob of Water Nixies and their crime boss leader, Skinner.

Can Henry solve the mystery of his family’s sinister past? Or, like his father before him, is he destined for life as a big bad wolf?

You can read an excerpt here.


It’s a Noir fairy tale and a fairy tale Noir – two genres I dearly love, together at last. Despite being a 2011 Edgar Award nominee, this book seems to have flown largely under the radar, and it’s a crying shame because Dust City is fantastic.

First off, Dust City has a truly authentic, pulpy Noir feel – and being the Raymond Chandler fan that I am, that made me ridiculously happy. Dust City just NAILS it, from its crumbling city-scape to its gaping class divides, not to mention racism, drug culture, and a downtrodden hero who gets beat up and down trying to do the right thing. All in all Weston has brilliantly brought to life that classic Noir paradigm, the seamy underbelly of a city of dreams – only in this case, the dreams aren’t of bright lights and stardom, they’re dreams of Happily Ever After, and therein lies the genius of this story. The dust in Dust City isn’t PCP, it’s fairy dust – but it’s not the old kind of magic fairy dust, the kind that made dreams come true. This dust is what was left over after all the fairies disappeared, magical chemical runoff, now heavily processed, refined, and made available to those who can pay for it. But of course, for those who can’t afford it – and those second class citizens are mostly of animal stock (the descendants of the clever animals of fairy tale lore, who have been barred from entering the Hominids-only upper level of the city) – the Mob is more than happy to supply their needs. It all makes for a brilliantly Noir fairy tale world.

The characters themselves are an equally wonderful blend of Noir and fairy tale –  Jack (of Beanstalk fame) is a pickpocket and juvenile delinquent; Snow White is a tough as nails detective, the only straight cop in a crooked police force, and Henry himself is the son of that original Big Bad Wolf, the wolf who murdered Grandma. Still, Henry is without a doubt the Good Guy of this story – in fact, Henry is such a good guy he comes across as rather naive at times, and his habitual honesty in some situations leaned a bit towards idiotic – but even so, Henry is no caricature. He’s in juvy when we meet him, and throughout the story he grapples with his fear of turning into the animal his father became, capable of murder – but mostly Henry is just an all around adorably sweet guy, and it’s impossible not to root for him.

I think my favorite thing about this story was how Weston played on both sides of fairy tale lore – both the rosy, Disney-esque dream of happily every after and the dark, disturbing Grimm side. Now that’s not to say this story is all THAT dark (this is YA, folks), but this book definitely isn’t afraid to be menacing and spooky, which I LOVED. Fairy tales and Noir make a more seamless pairing than you might think.

Now I do have to say, the plotting was a bit overt at times – this is not an Agatha Christie novel, by any means – but the story never stops moving, with reveals coming thick and fast. Weston does a wonderful job of opening up his world, raising more questions about what’s really going on, and keeping things rolling until the end. I never once lost interest, and it all comes together nicely. Sure, it might teeter a bit towards cartoon-y at times, but hey, that’s pulp.

So yes, I enjoyed the heck out of this book. I hadn’t even realized how much I’d been lulled into a state of paranormal YA complacency (it’s all THE SAME) until Dust City jarred me awake, in the best sense – at last, something NEW! Even with the deluge of fairy tale re-tellings, trust me, this book stands out from the crowd. If you’re a fan of Holly Black and/or Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm, definitely pick this one up.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly says:

Clever use of iconic characters and fairytale symbols against a hardboiled backdrop contribute to Weston’s distinctive and highly imaginative mise en scène. Though Henry knows that not all fairytales have happy endings, his scrappy determination to restore good should have readers avidly following him through the grimy streets of his brutal world.

YA Highway says:

…this is not your kid sister’s Cinderella retelling. This book has the fairytale version of heroin addicts, drug runners, genocide, caste systems, and genetic experimentation. It is hardcore; it is badass; and it is dark, dark, dark. Kudos to Weston for finally writing a story worthy of the Brother’s Grimm fables he satirizes.

CSI: Librarian says:

So for those in need of a change from the typical dystopian trilogy but wanting something with a lot of umph to it or anyone who has enjoyed Bill Willingham’s Fables, I heartily suggest taking a look at this book. I have a feeling it’s become lost in the shuffle and really ought to be more appreciated. I found it delightfully refreshing to read about a teenage wolf. Not a werewolf, not a shape shifter and not a wolf who can become a boy if he wants to, but an actual wolf, and not just a wolf but the son of the Big Bad Wolf. It doesn’t get much better than that.