Tag Archives: western

Review: “The Ferguson Rifle” by Louis L’Amour

I actually read The Ferguson Rifle (*****) for the first time years ago* and loved it, but I recently won the audiobook from Goodreads via their FirstReads program. (My review is not influenced by this fact, for the record.) This lined up nicely with a road trip my wife and I had to take, and so the adventure began anew….

I don’t usually do audiobooks, as I have little time for them. I don’t have copious amounts of driving built into my day (if this ever changes, I likely will start consuming larger quantities), I can’t listen at work, and frankly given the choice I would rather actually read the book myself. All that said, this was an excellent production. The reader, Brian D’Arcy James, has a marvelous command of accents, be they British, Scottish or Irish, and this book allowed him to showcase them to great effect. My wife and I both loved it, so I am reasonably sure this book will please both Louis L’Amour fanatics and newcomers.

It is no real secret that given how many novels L’Amour wrote that were set in the old west, sometimes they tend to run together in your memory. This, however, is one of those especially excellent entries in his bibliography that stand out in your memory both from sheer uniqueness and from persistent quality. Unlike most of Louis L’Amour’s bibliography, this book is not a “western” in the classical sense. It is set on America’s frontier around the year 1800, meaning the northerly Great Plains–the Dakotas, Montana, that area. In another sense, however, this is very much a western. That was “the west” at the time being described, just as what we now think of as the “east coast” was at one point the western frontier of exploration. It is into this territory, newly bought from France through the Louisiana Purchase, that Ronan Chantry rides. His old life is dead, all he loves burned up in a tragic fire. Now all he has is his experience on the frontier as a boy, his education in Europe as a man, his horse, and the extraordinary rifle he was given as a boy. He rides with a company of trappers into a new land, nearly unexplored, in search of a new start. When he discovers the trail of a woman and boy alone, being ruthlessly hunted by unsavory men, Ronan feels called to help. But when there is a fabled fortune of gold in the offering, men are not likely to give up its pursuit easily….

I’m a known Louis L’Amour devotee, so I absolutely loved this. No one crafts an adventure like Louis L’Amour, and few writers I’ve found have his appreciation for the scope of human history and the persistent force of western movement, while still retaining an appreciation for the contributions of the individual to history’s march. This is one of those books that, while reading, makes you yearn to look out across the unspoiled territory this country once was, to stand where his characters stand and see what they see. There’s a beauty to it, and you can hear in L’Amour’s writing a lilting note of mourning for what we have lost. He does not blame the pioneers and the farmers for what has happened, he understands history too well for that, and appreciates the inevitability of the march of “progress.” That doesn’t mean he (or his characters) have to like it. Ditto for the Indians, and you see that here as well. There are several sequences where the Indian is discussed, his character, his future, and his habits. Again, L’Amour understands why things happened as they did, but it still saddens him. Longtime Louis L’Amour readers will know what to expect in terms of characters and character development–there’s not usually a whole lot of moral ambiguity to a L’Amour adventure, there are good guys and bad guys, and they know their roles. Is that a problem? Not so far as I’m concerned. We need stories like that just as much as we need the other kind, maybe more. And this day and age, that type of story is harder to find.

CONTENT: Mild language, some violence, little to no sexual content.

*I’ve read most of Louis L’Amour’s books, but I can’t always remember which ones. This is fine–I’m totally up for reading a lot of them again. Probably going to go questing to read the entire bibliography at some point.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume I” by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, & Rafael Albuquerque

Title: American Vampire Volume I
Writers: Scott Snyder & Stephen King
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Series: American Vampire (Volume I, Issues #1-5)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2010

Are you a “Twi-Hard?” Then you really have very little reason to be reading my reviews of anything vampire-related, for one thing, and probably have a vastly-greater tolerance for crappy writing. You probably won’t want to read this review. I’ve said it before (though I don’t believe I’ve said it in any of these reviews): immortal beings who sparkly are not vampires but a particularly nasty breed of fairy. If I’m being charitable, perhaps a vampire-infected breed of fairy–but a fairy, nonetheless. Vampires are an incredibly rich subject matter for storytelling, allowing you to wrestle with themes of immortality, good VS. evil, inner demons, all kinds of stuff. A conflicted vampire, ala Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Angel? Sure. Walking in sunlight? Dracula does that in the original novel, so I’m flexible on this count. Sparkling? That’s just wrong. Sneaking into a girl’s room to watch her sleep? That’s just creepy, and I don’t mean the kind of creepy one should find in a vampire novel. (Want some fun? Find a YouTube video of Robert Pattinson discussing Twilight. He hates it!) My favorite apraisal of Twilight comes from an interview where the reviewer asked Stephen King what he thought of the book, given his praise of J.K. Rowling and the fact that some people were comparing Twilight and Harry Potter. Mr. King responded in a very matter-of-fact manner: “Stephanie Meyer cannot write for $#!^.” I’m less rigid in my ideas of what vampire stories are aloud to do than King is–I suspect Angel would stick in his craw almost as badly as Edward Cullen–but given that review I was fairly certain I was not in for yet another Twilight knock-off when I picked up the first volume of American Vampire . I was not disappointed.

American Vampire is a Vertigo series conceived by Scott Snyder, with the first volume (issues #1-5) written by Snyder and the legendary Stephen King, and drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. The first collection forms two stories told in alternating chapters, one set in 1925 Los Angeles, the other beginning in the 1880s and detailing the origin of Skinner Sweet, Old West outlaw-turned-vampire. Snyder writes the 1925 story, telling the story of Pearl Jones, a wannabe-actress and newly-minted pawn in an old feud between Skinner Sweet and the old school of vampires–European nobility of breeding and money. King writes the origin story based on Snyder’s outlines. Sweet is the first of a new breed of vampire, and the first vampire conceived on American soil. Sweet’s strain of vampirism doesn’t follow the old rules. He can walk in the daylight, may even be strengthened by it, and seems impervious to silver and garlic. The vampires of this series are savage animals, and while they may at times be sympathetic protagonists we are never allowed to forget how monstrous they are just below the surface. I’m not really all that well versed in art, but I will say that Albuquerque’s work here is very good. He captures the feel of the Old West and the savagery of the characters quite well. I’m not sure if King’s involvement goes beyond this first volume (UPDATE: it does not), but nevertheless I definitely intend to continue reading this series!

Content: This is a Vertigo book, so very much intended for an adult audience. There is a lot of violence, very savage and vividly rendered. This is a vampire book, what did you expect? The language is definitely R-rated, and there is a bit of sexual content. A bit of nudity too, but that part is non-sexual. (It’s a corpse, if you must know. Don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t find that arousing….)

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Review: Marvel Comics’ “Stephen King’s Dark Tower,” Arc I

Story & Creative Consultant: Stephen King
Plot & Research: Robin Furth
Script: Peter David
Pencils: Jae Lee (except for Fall Of Gilead)
Colors: Richard Isanove (handles full art duties on Fall Of Gilead and shares the art credit for Battle Of Jericho Hill)
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2007-2010

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Thus began one of Stephen King’s most epic works, the seven eight-volume Dark Tower fantasy series that provides the glue that ties all of King’s works together. I was personally introduced to the franchise through Marvel Comics’ prequel series, which details the origins of Roland Deschain and what brought his world to the state we find it in when King begins his epic saga.

This review is for the first arc of the story, consisting of the first five miniseries as well as the one-shot The Sorcerer. I plan to read the second arc, but that will be a second review. I also plan to read the actual series, but that could take a while as it ties into so many other King novels I have yet to pick up….

The content for these comics (especially The Gunslinger Born) is culled from flashbacks and other material revealed throughout King’s masterworks. King himself serves as creative consultant and first line of approval on the series. The research and general direction is handled by Robin Furth, author of The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance (I assume this means she’s an expert). The actual script is handled by Peter David, veteran of many of Marvel’s most enduring series. Pencils for the series are mostly handled by Jae Lee, while Richard Isanove handles the colors. Later in the series Lee is inexplicably absent for a set, with Isanove filling in almost seamlessly. When Lee returns, they share the art credit. I cannot rave enough about the beauty of the product of their collaboration throughout the series. The content and subject matter is unrelentingly dark, and yet there is great beauty to the books because of the artwork. It’s incredibly striking. I’ll seed some examples through here.

Roland and his kin inhabit a world not our own, though I understand that in the novels that come later Roland does a fair bit of jumping around Stephen King’s multiverse. These comics, however, are anchored firmly in Roland’s own All-World. The best way to describe All-World is to say that it is a land where there once existed a civilization much like ours, but they are long gone. It is implied that the “Old Ones” wiped themselves out with nuclear war, given the presence of mutated humans and livestock. After the destruction All-World was united by Arthur Eld, who ruled a mighty kingdom from his capital, Gilead in New Canaan. Roland and his father are descendants of Arthur Eld. Civilization has reorganized along feudal lines, and the technological level has plateaued at the “Old West” level, excepting the rare Old Ones’ artifact that someone manages to reclaim and get working again. In the Dark Tower mythos (and by extension, all of King’s body of work since most of it ties back to here), all of reality exists as various levels in the Dark Tower. From Roland’s world it is actually possible to enter the Dark Tower, a fact that makes it unique among all of reality. Roland and his friends are opposed by the Crimson King, John Farson, and the evil wizard Marten, who want to either destroy the Dark Tower and return the world to a state of chaos or control it and rule everything. As our story opens, the forces of these evil ones have been rolling across the world towards Gilead, opposed only by the Alliance led by Steven Deschain, Roland’s father. How long they can hold out against this ultimate evil remains to be seen…..

If you are interested, here are links to my reviews of the individual collections on Goodreads. Caution: reviews may contain spoilers for the previous volumes…..
Volume I: The Gunslinger Born (*****)
Volume II: The Long Road Home (***)
Volume III: Treachery (****)
Volume IV: Fall Of Gilead (*****)
Volume V: Battle Of Jericho Hill (****)

Content: This is not for kids. This is a series for adults and late teens, those old enough to appreciate the works of Stephen King.
Violence: There’s quite a bit of this. People die horrible and gruesome deaths frequently in these pages, and not just the bad guys. Young women, little children, strong men and weak, none of them are safe. This can be pretty gory at times, and is vividly rendered.
Language: Pretty PG. This is still Marvel, after all. Nothing you won’t hear on primetime TV.
Sex: Sexual matters are referenced and discussed fairly frankly, especially in the first volume when a young lady is sent to a witch to be checked to see if she is “still pure.” There is some implied sex–glossed over by a double-splash of the two characters kissing passionately while the narrator does his thing, and then dressing on the next page–but nothing explicit. No nudity.

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Review: Louis L’Amour’s “The Sackett Saga, Book I: Sackett’s Land”

I love Louis L’Amour’s writings. Formulaic as some of them can be (he was writing in the era of the pulps, don’t forget. He himself tried to keep anyone from reprinting certain of his short stories he felt were less than stellar), there is a quality to them that I rarely find anywhere else. This is an element that some would dismiss as cliché or outdated–Louis L’Amour’s characters are heroes, through and through. When I was a boy, I learned honor and chivalry from Arthur and his knights, from Robin Hood, from all those sorts of tales, it’s true. But I also learned these things from the Louis L’Amour westerns my dad let me borrow. For that reason, as well as the sense of pure adventure and the lure of the American Frontier, I will always have a place in my cram-packed library for a Louis L’Amour book. Among L’Amour’s most enduring creations is the Sackett family, which he revisited over and over again. Word is that he had at least three more of these tales planned before he died, but unfortunately we’ll have to be satisfied with those dozen or so Sackett stories he finished.

The first of these Sackett tales chronologically (and that’s the order I’ll be following, so like it or lump it!) is Sackett’s Land. Barnabas Sackett is a young man living in England’s fens, circa 1599. He has been left by his father with a bit of land, most of it swamp, a sword, and the skills to use both. A windfall discovery of several ancient Roman coins sets him on the road to trading in the New World, but he will have to tread carefully, for he has made a powerfull enemy. A promise to his father, made on the field of battle, threatens the inheritance of a rising star in the English Court. If Barnabas does not tread carefully, he will find himself an outlaw. If he does not watch his back, he may find being an outlaw the least of his worries….

Content: Some violence, some mild language. Nothing too severe.

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Review: “Gunman’s Tally” by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Gunman’s Tally
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2013

I won my copy of Gunman’s Tally through the Goodreads Firstreads program. The only effect this has on my review is that it ensures its existence.

It is my well-documented and firmly-held belief that a work of fiction does not have to hold some deeper meaning to be worth the time spent reading it–the job of every novel I pick up is first and foremost to entertain me, all other purposes come after. (Obviously this doesn’t hold true for informational or nonfiction works, although making the reading experience enjoyable there too would be a good thing.) So while some would dismiss those tales that came out of the “Golden Age of the Pulps” as worthless drivel, I consider them endless entertainment. Some of them are poorly written crap, of course, but even our enlightened age produced Twilight, so I think we have no room to judge. Anyway, Galaxy Press is publishing a series reprinting all of L. Ron Hubbard’s stories from that Golden Age spanning a vast variety of genres.

This volume consists of the main story, Gunman’s Tally, (about 70 pages) as well as the shorter Ruin At Rio Piedras (about 30 pages,) plus two essays on Hubbard and the Golden Age of the Pulps that I suspect grace each volume in the series. In Gunman’s Tally, greedy cattle baron George Barton tries to obtain Easy Bill Gates’ fertile Las Pinas ranch the cheap way–with lead. It’s cheaper to hire a gunslinger to kill Bill’s brother than to just offer a fair price for the land. But when Bill kills the gunhand in a blind rage, he gains a reputation and paints a target on his back. Now every gunhand in the territory–or that Barton can lure into the territory–is going to be trying to make a name for himself by challenging Gates….. Ruin At Rio Piedras I really can’t summarize without giving it away, so let’s just say it pits a loyal but disfavored cowhand against rustlers and his boss’s disloyal favorite.

Gunman’s Tally was an engaging tale, and well constructed. I did see the slight twist at the end coming, but that was more to do with my longtime reading habits than Hubbard giving it away. Ruin At Rio Piedras was not quite as good, but that’s why it’s the backup story. I will certainly look to read more of these collections whenever I can find them.

Content: mild language, a bit of violence, but nothing too disturbing.

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