Tuesday, April 8, 2014

West of Hell - The Whole Bloody Trilogy

Gehenna (West of Hell #1)Gehenna by Jason Brant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the two men fighting in the street turn out to be undead cannibals, the tiny town of Gehenna is thrown into flesh-eating chaos. The only people who seem to keep a cool head are Karen, the prostitute with a heart of bitter gold, and Mad Dog McCall, an outlaw trapped in the city jail...

Weird westerns have always been an easy sell for me. Know what's even better than a weird western? A FREE weird western!

Gehenna is told in two parallel threads for most of the book. One thread follows Karen and the people at the saloon. The other focuses on Mad Dog McCall, an outlaw gunfighter who is locked up waiting for the Federal Marshals to decide his fate.

The gore level is extremely high, I'd say four and a half out of five exploding zombie heads. Head explosions, flesh being torn from bones, and all sorts of moaner-killing goodness, which leads me to my favorite quote from the book:
"You keep calling them 'moaners'."
"Well, they moan. A lot."
"But the best you could come up with was 'moaners'? What about 'the living dead', or 'the eternal hungry.'"
"I'm shooting them in face, not writing a book."

The ending was really similar to the ending of Those Poor, Poor Bastards but there are only so many ways you can escape a tiny western town crawling with moaners.

The writing was a cut above what I expected, especially from a self-published book. Brant did a good job making me care about characters I knew were doomed to be devoured before the story's conclusion.

No complaints, especially since I have the second installment primed and ready to go. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Tartarus (West of Hell #2)Tartarus by Jason Brant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Gehenna in flames, Mad Dog McCall and Karen jump aboard the train heading west, toward the Tartarus River. Too bad there's also two criminals and a moaner on board...

The second installment of West of Hell picks up seconds after the first left off. McCall and Karen are on the train but so are a lot of passengers who think they are full of shit, a moaner that's already attacking people, and two criminals named Jones and Evans.

I'm happy to say Tartarus doesn't suffer from middle book in the trilogy syndrome. It's a satisfying installment on its own and is on par with the original. Zombies on a train, bitches!

The relationship between McCall and Karen is further developed, including McCall's past, and I'm happy to say they've neither fallen implausibly in love nor done the hokey-pokey, as it was called in those days.

As with Gehenna, the gore factor is high, maybe even a little higher than the original. Evans and Jones took some of the sheen off of McCall's armor and the hardened outlaw shoes that has a tender side. Karen continues to be a tough woman in a tough world.

Jason Brant's writing is quite polished. From now on, I'll cite him as an example of self-publishing done right. Not a typo nor grammatical error to be found. Not only that, he's a good storyteller and a good writer. I have no complaints.

Jason Brant has a great thing going with West of Hell. I'll be sad to see it end in the final volume, Sheol. Four out of five stars.

Sheol (West of Hell #3)Sheol by Jason Brant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An army of moaners a thousand strong converges on Sheol and Karen is the only one who can stop them. Too bad she's standing on a gallows and the last time she saw McCall, the moaners were upon him...

Sheol brings the West of Hell trilogy to a conclusion. Loose ends are tied up and the end was part awesome, part WTF? I half-suspected what was coming but it was still a surprise.

The amazing thing about the West of Hell trilogy is how far Karen and McCall end up from where they started, both location-wise and as characters. The murderous outlaw and the feisty prostitute go through one hell of a journey, pun intended.

As with the earlier volumes, the gore level is high. Moaners and regular people alike get shot, stabbed, and torn apart with frightening regularity. If possible, Sheol had even more tense moments than the previous two volumes. When an undead army is heading for your town, you can only gun down so many of them.

I can't stress enough how this series should be held up as an example of self publishing done right. It's tightly edited, well-written, and feels like a labor of love.

The West of Hell trilogy now occupies a place of honor high in my Weird Western hierarchy, right up there with the Dark Tower and The Merkabah Rider series. Four out of five stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment