Continuing with the catch up with a review of No Land for Heroes by Cal Black, the first book in the Legends & Legacies series, and again apologies to Escapist Tours and the author for how belated this post is.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Mildred Berry is down to her last four bullets…
In a wild west where the only things more dangerous than outlaws are dragons, Deputy Berry is struggling to protect her town and keep her family fed. As a last resort, she robs a train for ammunition only to find that the cargo she needs so badly was owned by war hero Frederic Rousseau.
The same Frederic Rousseau whom she served during the Amelior Civil War. The same Frederic Rousseau she’s been hiding from for the last five years.
Millie knows a secret that could ruin Rousseau’s life, and he’ll stop at nothing to keep her from telling the truth. With her violent past bearing down on the life she’s built for herself, Millie has to decide how far she’ll be willing to go to keep her town safe.
Honestly, I need more fantasy westerns and weird west stories in my life. It’s fast becoming one of my favourite subgenres, and it was why I leapt at the chance to read No Land for Heroes. While it wasn’t quite what I had been expecting (which is more on me than the book), this book was a fascinating look at what can be done in this genre, and there was a lot I loved about it, from some of the vistas, to the moral questions, and the found family and ragtag group in Scorched Bluff.
Plus, there’s a dragon.
“Well, I don’t believe that,” Hal said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “A fight is coming. Maybe, maybe an old war dog is what your town needs right now.”
There was a fair bit going on in this story and world, but at its heart was the characters. Of those, Millie was the one who stole the show for me. On one level, it very much as those she epitomized the world she lived in – she was part of the ‘wild’ aspect of the west, and that shaped how she was and how she lived. I could certainly sympathise with her wanting her world to remain wild. However, it was the emotional weight that she carried that really drew me in, and added so much to the story – she was a women in shades of grey, not good and not bad, carrying the weight and scars of a troubled past, but also trying to do her best and move forward and protect her people and her family. That she was a mother was another dimension to her character, and made powerful here, because it was an integral part of her, but also didn’t limit her from having adventures and taking action, and that agency was wonderful to behold.
Millie was our gateway to much of the emotional depth of this book, from her ptsd over her time in slavery and her actions in the war, which was well-written and dealt with in a balanced and delicate way. To her fear and protectiveness over keeping the town, and her family safe. To the fact that around her was a found family of sorts, a posse of those who had gathered together to survive out in the West in Scorched Bluff; and I loved the different dynamics she had with those around her, and how it was shaped by their differing experiences and cultures.
There was a large cast of characters, and for the most part they all felt incredibly distinct (if not always likeable); but the other standouts for me were Jebediah. While his main motivation is revenge, with all the fallout that comes from that, there was something incredibly compelling about having a character who was so upfront about his purpose, and so dedicated to his cause and his family as part of that. It also makes a for an intense, and personal tension between him and Millie; and it’s interesting to see two opposing approaches to ‘protecting’ their family. Whereas one that I struggled with, that was also a large POV – was Gilbert. Although I will admit that he did grow on me a little towards the end of the book, as he had some of his edges knocked off, but there was a smarminess to him, particularly when it came to the romance aspect that rubbed me up the wrong way from the beginning. I’ve got a growing appreciation for romances in fantasy, but this one didn’t work for me, as it felt too fast and awkward in the weird sense; and I felt like there were better, more developed relationships elsewhere.
Worldbuilding for fantasy westerns can be a challenge, if you veer too much to the fantasy it doesn’t feel like a western, and if it leans to much into the historical western setting it loses the fantasy. No Land for Heroes does a good job of balancing the two elements, as we’ve got the narrower scope of a western – the small town, the scene of the heist as well as the nod to historical elements, and we have the fantasy with dragons, and magic and magical races. I have to say it’s the first time I’ve encountered elves and orcs and dragons in a western setting, which might be more to do with my reading than what’s available out there (and I look forward to finding out). This one tread a little more closely to history than most of the ones I’ve read previously, with a civil war and slavery, and to some extent it feels like a reskinning. Which leads me to one of the few real issues I had with this one, and that was that the elves were used in place of Native Americans, but with related terms like moccasins and tomahawks still being used in reference to them. On some level I can understand why it was done as it ventures into sensitive, and it fits with the worldbuilding, but it was an element that I didn’t particularly like and didn’t work as well for me.
In terms of pacing, this one is like a rolling stone as it has a slower start, but gradually builds up the action and the pacing. Although I liked how Black balanced the action and quicker paced moments, with quieter, softer character moments, especially as those moments were some of the most powerful. The prose was strong, striking the right balance between action and atmosphere, and the dialogue was a stand-out aspect, and did an excellent job particularly in the emotional moments. There was also a twist that I hadn’t seen coming with regards to the antagonists, and while I wasn’t completely sold on it at the time, in retrospect I like that element much more.
Overall, No Land for Heroes was an entertaining read, and I loved the combination of dragons and a western setting and plot (these are a few of my favourite things), and I look forward to seeing where Black takes this series. A great read if you were a fan of Godless on Netflix, and if you want something off the beaten path, with a fantastic main character and a story that touches on so many emotional notes.
Cal Black is a Canadian writer based in Ontario who enjoys writing about messy people who make an effort to improve their situation. Cal has a short story published, was a semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and won a Wattpad Watty award in 2019 for Fantasy. After realising she prefers to write novels instead of short stories, Cal shifted gears and is now writing gaslamp fantasy, cosmic fantasy, and has a bad habit of ‘trying out new genres’ when already full up on projects.
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.