Friday, May 16, 2014

Spoiler-Free Book Review: "Honor Among Outlaws", a Wild West Exodus novel by Craig Gallant

This time I'm taking a look at Honor Among Outlaws the first book of the Jesse James Archives, set in the Wild West Exodus tabletop game setting, by the D6 Generation's Craig Gallant

From the back of the book:
In an alternate history twisted through the evil influence of strange, mysterious creatures, the greatest figures of American History battle for dominance and control of a war-torn nation.  High tech machines and weapons dominate the land as the world changes daily with each new invention.  In the middle of this clash of giants, two lone outlaws, Jesse James and William "Billy the Kid" Bonnie, strive for recognition and their share of the glory, struggling for their place on the national stage.


Initial Thoughts:
Let me begin this review by stating that I do not play Wild West Exodus (WWX), have not read the rules, and aside from some brief overviews on the net, I know next to nothing about the universe it is set in.  Sure, I've looked at the game, thought about giving it a go, but I decided to give this book a read first, to see get a better sense of the setting I could potentially be playing.  The setting is a bit out of norm too, as I'm not all that into cowboys & Indians typically, and this was my first "western" story.  So going into it, that was my primary concern:  to learn more about the setting WWX is set in, and to see if it "fits" well enough with me to read the other WWX novels and/or potentially give the actual game a try...

The Good:
I know of the author from the D6 Generation podcast, which also helped draw me to the book.  I know it was his first full novel, and I was eager to see what a new author had to offer.  First off, he has a good eye for action.  Albeit, the firefights and action in the novel can feel brief, but it is probably more realistic in that regards.  I don't see western firefights being long, drawn out affairs.  And there is action aplenty!  I'd also say, that I definitely know more of the WWX setting than I did before, as well as the key players, than I did before, without giving everything away.  I imagine some of the gaps could be filled in a little more if I did read the WWX rulebook.  Finally, I should say I found the setting intriguing.  You have crazy powered robotics, hover-motorcycles, and zombies, all mixed within the American Wild West, and it just seems to all fit together nicely.

The Not So Good:
As with everything in life, not everything is perfect.  The first few issues have nothing to do with the author, but more so the publisher.  To start with, let's look at the actual book itself.  It's oddly square shaped, and yet inside it looks as if it was formatted to fit in a regular shaped book, creating lots of empty space around the text, of which the font size is also pretty small.  There are also lots of spacing between each paragraph, which really broke the page apart.  I found myself often starting/stopping in the middle of a page, which I don't usually do, due to the odd breaks.  There were some mistakes here and there, more so than normal, that should have been caught by the editor.  At first I struggled a bit with that typical "western" era language, it's off by just enough that early on I found myself re-reading a sentence every now and then while thinking "what is he saying?!?"  Either it settles down a bit in the latter portion of the story, or i just got used to it enough that the translations came a bit easier!  Also, I do feel there were some pacing issues, as the actual overall plot was apparent until about the last 1/3 of the book.  The other 2/3 of the book was more so just like a "few days in the life's of ____", which was fine as it gave me that good intro to the characters and the setting I wanted.  That said, I do feel the overall plot could have used a bit more attention and a bit more drawing out.  There were also "too many people in the sandbox" so to speak, as literally all the factions were represented in at least a chapter a two, which felt a bit forced.  I think the whole novel would have been a bit better if it had focused on just one or two of the factions instead of creating a wild mix of all the factions, I think it would have helped focus the story.  I also have mixed feelings towards the ending, as the novel/plot overall, felt a bit unresolved.

Final Thoughts:
In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about this one.  On the one hand, I did what I wanted, and that was give me a better sense of the key characters and the setting with WWX.  There are two other novels out (or coming out) featuring Jesse James, so this book, and/or the plot started within, could be just be act 1 of a greater story.  Did it make me want to dive right in to the tabletop game?  Not more so than I already did.  Would I read the other WWX novels?  Sure I would, though they probably won't be high on my priority list, unless I do start playing the tabletop game.  It's funny how books can have an effect on the tabletop hobby, and vise versa.  All in all, I'd recommend the book for any diehard WWX fans, anyone wanting to just get some background info on the universe, or anyone wanting to just try something different with a little sci-fi/western mix!  This was Mr. Gallant's first novel, and I'm he will only be getting better and better as time goes on!

Hope you enjoyed my brief review,  hopefully one of the future novels will feature the Warrior Nation or Holy Order more prominently next time...

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