No one knows where or when the rips will appear, but they do, and from them, Outlanders walk the earth. Coyote travels the territories with Caesar, her mysterious partner in the bounty hunter business, and together they confront these alien threats to humanity. Along the way, Coyote discovers a secret that threatens to shatter everything she believes about herself, her father, and her sworn enemy, James Westwood. Whether Outlander or inner demons, some things can’t be solved with a six shooter.
Weird West, or steampunk with a Western flavour, is a sub-genre I’m not that familiar with. I’ve read several novels and short stories set in a Western setting, but not that many with a steampunk vibe. When I was approached about reviewing Coyote: The Outlander, I was intrigued by this aspect of the story. The fact that the author, Chantal Noordeloos, was also a draw, as I’m always fascinated by fellow Dutchies who can write fiction in English as well as they can in Dutch, as it’s a skill I can’t even imagine possessing. And Coyote is a fun, solidly written story, one that aims to add a bit more to its reading experience by adding in a second screen experience.
The second screen experience, a phenomenon that’s sprung up in the wake of the rise of the tablet, is something that is more commonly found paired with TV programmes. And while there are numerous publishers experimenting with enhanced e-books, especially on the educational and scholarly side of the trade, a second screen experience was something I hadn’t encountered before in my reading. And it was rather a mixed experience for me. While I liked the general idea and the extra short stories found there were quite good, but I found that it also kept taking me out of my reading and I didn’t read the stories until after I finished the book, because that might have been confusing. The interview included was interesting and the music fun, but since I generally read in silence or with the kids making noise, that didn’t add anything for me. However, this is a very personal reaction and you’ve got to praise Noordeloos and her publisher for experimenting with the format.
Thus far I’ve mostly talked about the packaging – the book’s sub-genre and the second screen experience – but what about the actual story? The start of the book was a bit rough. I found it hard to connect to the characters and get into the writing style, but I’m glad I hung in there, as after a chapter or two the narrative smoothed out and the story became quite enjoyable. A Western tale is always fun as the delineation between good and evil is superficially often quite clear – we call them white-hats and black-hats for a reason – but in a good story below the hats it’s all a bit more murky than that. This is the case for Coyote: The Outlander as well. The idea of dimensional rifts and the Outlanders that can tumble through them was an interesting one and I especially enjoyed the chapter set at Ming’s Emporium as it twisted everything we learn about rifts up to that point.
Coyote, the titular heroine of the story, is a great character. She’s fun, morally upright, yet flexible to get her job done and as a bounty hunter she needs all the flexibility she can muster. The book is very much concerned with her having to confront uneasy truths from her past which she’s hidden from for years and it’s a painful, yet interesting thing to watch. The one thing about Coyote that kept bothering me, however, was her braids. I kept picturing them Rapunzel-style down to her calves and how on earth is that practical when you’re a down and dirty, horseback-travelling bounty hunter? In know it’s a weird detail to get hung-up on, but there you have it. Coyote’s partner Caesar, a freed slave of small physical stature, is a cool sidekick, though I’d have loved to have seen more personality from him. He only gets a few moments to shine and that was a shame, as one of the short stories is from his perspective and it was one I enjoyed a lot. The shaman Tokala was quite interesting and wish we could have seen more of him. One last important character was Westwood and while he’s cast as the villain, I actually really liked him and I hope we’ll learn more about him and Coyote in the future. The twist concerning him and Coyote was also quite cleverly done and I really liked how he tied into her story with her father.
A lot is packed into what is actually a slim novel and some of it might have been unpacked a bit more. In fact, some of the information given in the short stories unlocked in the second screen could have easily been incorporated into the book to flesh it out a bit. Despite its slow and bumpy start, I enjoyed reading Coyote: The Outlander and I look forward to reading more set in this universe.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.