J Patrick Allen’s Dead West: West of Pale Review

J Patrick Allen’s Dead West: West of Pale is a combination I’m not sure I’ve seen before, pairing urban fantasy—magic, monsters, and myth—with a more western setting. The official time period is somewhere after the civil war, perhaps five to twenty years based on what I can quickly find, but hey, that means we’re looking at old-school rifles, pistols, and lots of travel via horses. It also means that the fantastical elements are a bit easier to digest by the characters, since there are no pesky cell phones and Internet to get in the way.

The problem is, the book hardly does anything I’d call “new.”

Charlie’s father is murdered by some kind of river monster, and not one of the nice kinds either. No, this one talks and stalks, and it’s out for Charlie because it’s owed the blood of a first born. It also has no qualms killing anyone trying to help Charlie. Yup, it’s a nasty creature.

Dead West starts off explosively and doesn’t ever really slow down. The first leg of the book is Charlie’s terror-filled run across the United States looking for a mysterious fellow his father promised would help. Each stop he makes lets the monster get closer, and on the whole, it’s all pretty darn entertaining. The book being in first-person past kills some of the tension since we know Charlie isn’t going to die, but his narration sells his fear well enough.

The whole thing is a hair unbelievable though. He’s got few clues to go on, mostly just the name Sam Clayton and the random help of strangers, so that he manages to hike from Missouri to Minnesota and actually find Sam feels too coincidental and plot-demanded than anything else.

That being said, the first third of this novel, perhaps even a bit further, is good. The pacing is maybe a little too quick at times—this isn’t the kind of book that wants to sit down and smell the roses—but it’s fun and I certainly sympathize with Charlie. He knows nothing other than the monster is damn determined to see him dead.

When Sam Clayton is found though, we start getting answers, and that’s where things get a bit dull. Dead West turns from a sort of horror novel into a pretty standard, “there’s monsters out there, Charlie, and people like me hunt them” affair. Sam is of course broken and haunted by a terrible past, and he’s pretty gruff and unfriendly too.

And hell, even that isn’t so bad. The spook the two first encounter is pretty fun and wraps up well enough, though you’ll probably call the mystery well before it’s solved.

I think part of the problem is that Dead West relies heavily on common folklore, and it doesn’t really do much with it that we haven’t seen before. In a way, Mr. Patrick Allen was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you’re trying to match history and actual fairytales, then you need to do the proper research to get things right; however, to stick with those fairytales too closely treads over plenty of things we’ve all seen and read about before.

He mixes things up somewhat, but I’m not sure he really changes enough.

The other part of the problem is with the writing itself. It’s nothing really special, falling into pretty typical young-adult first-person narration. There’s a good amount of telling, and even when Charlie is being descriptive, most of the descriptions are just dull. Now and then a wonderful set of sentences will show up, proving that there is good writing to be found here, but I wasn’t really engaged through most of the novel.

There are also a pretty notable amount of typos, wrong words used, or outright missing words. There are less of these in the first leg of the novel, but by around chapters eight or nine, they really start cropping up in full force. They seem to fall away a bit towards the end, making me think the first third and last third of this novel were heavily edited while the middle was skipped.

I could take a red pen and spend awhile inking in all the missing comas, too.

Honestly, Dead West: West of Pale reminds me of The Girl With Ghost Eyes in almost every way. Plenty of good bits, some fun characters, and a new setting, yet both novels really just rubbed me the wrong way, and I’m left trying to figure out why. I reread what I’ve written in this review and feel like my complaints are somewhat trivial.

I’ll do what I always do in these kinds of books then: tell you to go read the sample on Amazon. If that sells you on it, then yeah, you’ll have some fun. The novel gets a bit predictable here and there, and it hits a few tropes a bit too hard for my liking, but really, there’s little wrong with it other than some bland prose.

I just could not get into it past a certain point.

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