Westerns and I have usually been rather reluctant companions; they're not really my cup of tea, but my husband loves them, so I'll have to sit through either Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly once a year. As a consequence I've always been rather hesitant to pick up weird westerns, thinking I wouldn't enjoy them. But in my bid to broaden my reading and as the blurb and synopsis of the book sounded rather interesting, I took a chance on The Dead of Winter. It turns out westerns and I do get along, as long as they're combined with a strong, female lead and some supernatural shenanigans, things which Lee Collins offers up by the bucket load in this, his debut novel.
To my disquiet, it did take me awhile to get into book. I needed to get used to the rhythm of the prose and the stylistics of a western, and to connect to Cora. Luckily by the third chapter this was a fait accompli and I could settle into the narrative completely. Cora Ogelsby is a wonderful protagonist, with a fantastic voice and presence: very western, mixed with a bit of South. She's gruff, competent and all business, except when it comes to her husband Ben. Ben comes across as the weaker partner, or rather as the second fiddle to Cora's first. He's bookish and kind and doesn't seem cut out for the life he and Cora lead. While there are some great major secondary characters, these two lead the dance and the only one who is able to cut in is Fodor Glava, the main antagonist. His character is the only one who makes as big an impression as Cora and Ben do. However, I have to say that I loved Father Baez though!
Collins gives us an interesting world in The Dead of Winter. I'm not very familiar with the Wild West, for reasons stated above, so I'm not sure how historically accurate the book is, but it certainly rings true to the Hollywood depiction of it I've seen on TV--though I'll grant that might not be the best standard to judge by. It doesn't add in any strange non-contemporary technology or gizmos, however, it adds in the supernatural. I liked his choice of monsters; there are vampires in true Dracula style. Having read Dracula last year, I can see how Fodor harkens back to Stoker's depiction instead of the more contemporary representations of vampires. The distinction between vrykolakas and nosferatu was cool and scary, with an interesting hierarchy between the two. There is even a nod to Stoker as the British vampire expert claims to have been taught his lore by a certain Dutchman.
The Dead Winter's plot seems quite straightforward, with a fairly quick resolution to the initial monster problem and a continuance of the narrative via the bigger problem with the vampire nest. This isn't to say that it's boring, not at all; however, at about three quarters of the book, Collins pulls out the rug from under you and hands you a plot twist that left me going wait, WHAT? Even suspecting something was off, I couldn't quite see it coming. Once you cotton on, earlier clues become very apparent, even perhaps a bit clumsy, but in first instance I just read right over them. I thought the twist was set up very well and I loved the resolution of the mystery and the narrative.
That is not to say that this book didn't have its problems. As pointed out, took me awhile to get into it and Collins does make some clunky switches of point of view, transitions into flashbacks, and introductions of plot necessary characters, but those are all first novel stumbling blocks and can be forgiven on those grounds.
In all, The Dead of Winter introduced me to a new sub-genre of my beloved speculative fiction genre and did it in such a way that next time I won't be so hesitant to try a Weird Western. The Dead of Winter is an interesting first book from an author who shows lots of promise and is the first in a series that looks to be very entertaining. The Dead of Winter is out now from Angry Robot and will be followed in the spring by She Returns From War. I'm looking forward to it already.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.