Today I am delighted to finally be sharing my review for Cold West by Clayton W. Snyder. For some reason, maybe just because life has been a little crazy lately, this review has been fighting me no end.
Bastard. Killer. Husband. Father.
His wife cold in the ground, and two young boys to feed, Wil Cutter turns to what he knows: Violence. But a bounty is never just a bounty, and blood is never spilled in drops. Forced to ever more violent acts, he’ll have to ask himself: Is Hell too far to ride?
Weird West is a genre I’m getting more and more invested in lately, and Cold West was probably one of the first that I’d heard of in this particular subgenre and it had been sitting on my kindle for a while – and believe me I am kicking myself for taking so long to pick it up because this is a fantastic book. It’s relatively short, but don’t let that fool you for an instant, because Cold West is a book that packs one hell of a punch, or several punches really – but the kind that you don’t realise are happening until they’ve already landed, and the bruises are starting to form.
In so many ways Cold West is a masterpiece of understatement and misdirection, with the full impact of the world and the story creeping up on you, even as you are caught up in the almost relentless forward motion of the story. I really enjoyed this book the first time I read it, but I’ve found myself appreciating it even more on the second read through – and it is a book that needs and deserves that second look, because for me at least the real impact of Cold West lay in those depths, in the subtleties that sneak up behind you, and this is across the board for this book.
When you think of wild west or weird west, it conjures a particular expectation for the worldbuilding and landscape, and there are certain aspects of that here – bounties, uncharted wilderness, the feel of standing opposite the law. But, here we see the understatement in that in many ways it feels as though the worldbuilding has been stripped down to the essentials, enough to catch the essence of the west, and more than enough to give you a clear feeling of the immediate environment. Not only does that feed into the starkness of this world, but it highlights the weird – because as much as this is a world of guns and blood and violence, and the human struggle to survive, it is weird. There are airships. There’s magic and the Nulls that can counter it. There are demons and ghosts. It’s weird, but in a way that is woven into the story with the same subtlety as the ‘normal’ aspects of the western setting, and it works beautifully as a result.
‘I blinked, saw the ribs of an airship, long covered with sod and lichen jutting from the ground. Ivy wrapped around the struts and bright pink flowers the size of my fingernail bloomed there. A crater filled with rainwater. The skeleton of some horror the Nulls had brought into being.’
There was also very much a feeling that we were only being shown a small corner of a much larger world, and that is one of my favourite feelings to get from worldbuilding. To feel as though if you just push past the pages of the story you’re in, that you will find another story and another, even if you never see more than a hint of what lays beyond, and Snyder has captured that feeling perfectly here.
Cold West has a fairly slow beginning, but once it gets going it would be easy to get caught up in the fast-paced, action-packed story in Cold West, and it’s impossible to ignore that aspect of the book. There’s a relentlessness to the pacing and the world, that draws you in and refuses to let go from start to finish. It feels very much like a western in that sense, with the flash bang of action and violence, and even the quieter moments moving you forward towards the next.
‘When it comes down to it, when it comes down to killin’ and taking what the world owes, most men will never step foot on that path. Others will only walk it so far and find they’ve no more heart for it.’
However, it would be a disservice to this book if that was all you took away from this book. There are layers to this book, and to our protagonist Will Cutter and the emotional depth of this book is where Cold West really shone for me. It starts almost simply with a loss. With grief and memories, and everything that wells up in the cracks that emotion leaves behind. It’s a story of love, and what love can do – both when it’s there and when it’s taken away. A story of family. A story of what a man can do in their absence, and what he will do to try and keep them alive and safe.
What he will do in the name of survival.
‘They say when a man meets the love of his life, all the mean goes out of him. Sometimes in small bits, like venom leaving the blood, sometimes in great rushes like an open artery. I don’t know about that. I do know that when that person’s gone, it starts to slip back in, a knife in the heart.’
Will Cutter is a great reflection of the world, he’s as tough and scarred as the landscape, and as shaped by the weird elements as the world around him. He’s also a truly fascinating character – and if you are looking for a strong character-driven story then you need to look no further. His voice carries this story. It’s memorable, with a wonderful mix of snark, hardness and vulnerability – especially where his family is concerned. He’s not a good man. But by whose view? His wife knew about his past and accepted it. His boys loved him, and he loved them. Yet, he had done bad things and did a lot more through the course of the book. I love characters who raise these questions, who straddle that border, and compel your investment in their story, their view of the world and Cutter is a great example of that.
What will they say about me when I’m gone, then? Not much, likely. He was a bastard and a liar. A rotten thief. A killer. But mostly I was fed up. And a fed-up man’s got a lot of moral leeway.
Cold West is one of those books that sticks with you, gnawing at you until you find the marrow of the story. As I said it packs more than one punch, and revisiting to rewrite this review I found myself catching other bits that I had missed previously, again because of the many layers to this story. I will also say, that on my first reading, I wasn’t completely sold on the ending – it was my one nitpick about the whole book, and certainly paled against everything that loved against it. On a reread, and perhaps because I caught more bits this time around, the ending hit differently and I enjoyed it a lot more (in that emotionally painful way that this book demands).
A brilliant read for anyone who likes strong, character-driven stories, with snark and action and more than a little violence, and perfect for anyone wanting to get more into Weird West stories.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.