AUTHOR INFO: Co-author of SPFBO finalist Norylska Groans, which Anthony Ryan (Blood Song) described as “Rich in bone-crunching violence and a grimly convincing sense of place and character.”, and the final instalment of the Manifest Delusions series, A War to End All. Several of my other novels have been SPFBO semi-finalists. I’ve also authored numerous short stories, my most recent, Hounds, at Grimdark Magazine. I currently split my time between work and writing. I have worked as a systems admin, chainsaw operator, and once did an ill-advised stint as a bodyguard because I am ‘really tall’.
Publisher: Clayton Snyder (February 29, 2020) Page Count: 141 (Kindle edition) Cover art: Clayton Snyder
Part revenge thriller, part surreal nightmare, Snyder knocks another one out of the park with the story of a post-war survivor with a few tricks up his sleeve that is hired to do some dirty work. Things go south quickly, and Wil must do whatever he can to survive.
The book feels like “Shane” meets Ed McDonald’s ‘Misery’ as Wil must contend with the worst monsters mankind has to offer. The story fades in and out of fever dreams, past hallucinations, and memories to the point where you’re not sure just what is real. It adds another layer of horror and discomfort to the reading experience, which Snyder has always excelled at.
This story made me want to go kiss my family on their foreheads and hug them close. It’s a grim, fast-paced western horror with a more than a touch of the supernatural while slyly tugging at the heartstrings. It’s a deft combo that had me glued. Those with any interest in the subjects listed in this review would do well to check this one out.
Cold West is a dark, visceral, and unapologetically weird fantasy Western that practically bleeds with sorrow, remorse, and revenge.
Wil Cutter thought he had left his brutal and turbulent past behind, but now his wife is in the ground, and returning back to violence is the only way left to protect his two boys. As he sets out on a dangerous bounty hunt, we are launched into a frenzied tale full of vengeance, grief, reflection, bloodshed, and unrelenting darkness.
This is an extremely character-driven narrative, feeling almost more like a deep psychological study than anything else. Wil Cutter’s spiralling mental state permeates every single aspect of the story, which is reflected in the grim tone, bleak setting, knife-sharp prose, and almost suffocating atmosphere.
The structure of the plot is also somewhat bonkers, but it does really make sense considering Wil’s manic state of mind. Memories, flashbacks, and bizarre fever dreams constantly break up the present-day narrative, which makes the story even more wild than it already is. On the one hand, I liked all the poignant moments of introspection and appreciated that we got such an intimate look into Wil’s messed up mind, but on the other hand I also had a hard time getting invested due to the rocky pacing and disruptive plot structure.
I also wouldn’t have minded this book to be a bit longer and slower-paced, because there were so many intriguing bits of imaginative world building just dangled in front of our eyes and then immediately snatched away again. A minimalistic approach to world building can work really well for me if the other aspects of the story keep me engaged, but that unfortunately wasn’t the case here.
There’s no denying that Snyder nailed his vision and accomplished what he set out to do, but whether you will enjoy that execution is purely going to depend on your personal emotional investment. If you like the sound of a bold, bleak, fast-paced, and experimental grimdark take on the fantasy western genre, then Cold West is the book for you.
Cold West is a dark story set in a brutal world. Everything here is plagued by moral decay and despair. There’s a plot, of course, but since the story’s structure is non-linear, approach it as an exercise in writing about grief, hardship, and a man’s struggle to move forward after losing his beloved wife.
I’ll start with the things I liked. I appreciated the writing style; its strong imagery conveys a poignant portrayal of loss and the emotional suffering it caused. The story’s somber, melancholic atmosphere fits the harshness of the world. There’s also a complex backstory to everything happening, and I think it’s used reasonably well throughout the story.
The protagonist is a complex character with a troubled past, a strong sense of responsibility, and an emotional depth. His interactions with his children and the memories of his late wife add emotional complexity to his character. And his struggles and the challenges he faces as a father and a provider are understandable. More so than his actions, I guess.
On the flip side, a lot of what’s happening could benefit from more clarity and context, which would allow readers to fully grasp the underlying conflicts and characters’ motivations. The pacing goes from slow and depressingly introspective to short outbursts of action and violence and doesn’t feel balanced (subjective). The world feels dangerous and gritty, and everything feels harsh: surroundings, other people, political situation. It’s depressive and brutal and utterly dark with no shred of hope.
The narrative’s nonlinear structure and the use of flashbacks will appeal to some, and irk others. I wasn’t crazy about it and I didn’t think it was done particularly well. Subjective, again. Readers seeking a more straightforward storytelling experience will probably have an issue with it, too, though. The complex, dark themes and the graphic depiction of violence will be divisive.
Now, I’m okay with bleak and violent, but there’s something about Cold West that made me actively dislike the world and characters. While I appreciate the author’s skill in portraying grief and a brutal world, I’ve never felt particularly immersed in it or invested in any meaningful way. Subjectively speaking, reading Cold West was rather unpleasant. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad book as I’m sure it’ll resonate with some readers.
In all, Cold West is a dark read filled with gritty action and a level of psychological depth. For fans of dark, character-driven stories with little to no hope.
OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING