Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: "Guns of Retribution" by Icy Sedgwick

I am a bit saddened as I post this review, as I have followed the author, Icy Sedgwik, for quite some time now. Her flash stories that she posts on her blog http://blog.icysedgwick.com/ every Friday showcase her immense talents. So when I picked up “Guns of Retribution” I had high hopes and expectations. Unfortunately, the book fell short.

This novella follows bounty hunter Grey O’Donnell as he tries to make a living, bringing outlaws to justice. He is assisted by another gun-slinging cowboy and a mute Apache as they work to keep Gray’s family safe from the crooked Sheriff of the town of Retribution.

You would never know from the vivid descriptions and world building that Icy Sedgwick lives in the UK. Instead, you might assume she owns a ranch in southern Arizona. Her depiction of a team of riders chasing down a train and the towns of the old west are colorful and very believable. But what makes Guns of Retribution unique is that it does not just use the stereotypical saloon, main street, bank, and jail towns. Instead, the setting is sprinkled with general stores, churches, and even a public bath.

As far as the plot, it was solid, and it really seemed to grow organically from the opening scene, which grabbed my attention and brought me right into the story. There were a few minor problems though that I think could have easily been fixed. For instance, there are two towns, one full of good, moral people, and the other full of evil, immoral outlaws. By my estimation from the context, they must have been less than 10 miles apart in frontier Arizona, which doesn’t seem plausible to me. But those nit-picky things aside, the story of Guns of Retribution is good and entertaining.

However strong the setting and plot was though, I felt like the characters we far too black and while, with the good guy being all good and the bad guy being all bad. I know this is a western and the characters in westerns are usually pretty polar, but I’d like to see the hero doing something morally questionable at least once in the first half. Tell a lie or punch one of his buddies. I want to know he is human. The same goes for the antagonist who is the epitome of evil. Again I just want to see a hint of mercy in him to know we are not dealing with the spawn of Satan.

Another thing that bugged me was the overarching Freudian themes in this book. The hero runs into the sheriff’s trap to save his mother, and the sheriff himself is primarily bad because his own mother ran away. I like that there is a reason the sheriff is not the greatest guy on the planet, but two mother motivations in one book was a little hard to swallow.

There was also some bits of dialogue that literally got me shouting at the book, repeating what one of the characters said. Grey is about to charge into danger and tells his sidekick that he doesn’t have to come along if he doesn’t want to. The sidekick of course says that he wants to. That’s fine and all, but Gray does this about five more times. The last time, when the sidekick pretty much says to shut up and let him come with, I shouted out with him for Grey to shut up and ride to Retribution.

It’s little things like those that pulled me out of the book enough to where it was not enjoyable to read, and this was not something I expected from this author.

Overall Gunds of Retribution was like eating a really tasty pudding embedded with grains of sand. Most of the content was really good, but the abrasion of a couple parts was enough so that I didn’t want to finish it despite the good things it had going on.

Unfortunately I can’t recommend this book, and it receives only 4/10 stars. What I can do, however, is recommend you read the flash fiction Icy Sedgwick posts on her blog. Hopefully the next book is more representative of Icy’s skill and those grains of sand are filtered out.


AE October 26, 2011 at 9:46 PM  

Hey, great post. I'm glad to see that you support the author and were still able to give an honest review. I'm concerned about the 4/10 with the favorable things you had to say, so I'm kinda wondering how bad the bad was. Very descriptive review, thanks!

Michael A Tate October 27, 2011 at 4:45 PM  

I suppose I never really clarified my scale. 4/10 would be: "Entertaining enough to read if it was the only thing you had on an airplane." I wouldn't recommend anybody buy a 4/10 book but if you had it lying around and you were bored, it would be entertaining.

(Perhaps I'll have to make a post about my scale)

John Wiswell October 28, 2011 at 4:05 PM  

If you need a parent post about your scale, the scale itself might not be that useful to begin with. Like AE, I didn't get how 4/10 worked after you had such positive things to say about the book, but then the experience of a book isn't quantifiable, and certainly not on a 10-scale. So maybe folks who are more used to using star ratings or what-not would get more function out of it than me.

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