I had the pleasure of reading the Hell’s Butcher series by Chris Barili, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher. This series is refreshingly different, a combination of western, speculative fiction and super hero, and somehow, it all works.
Frank Butcher has been appointed Hell’s Marshal, sent back to the land of the living on the trail of killers escaped from hell, bent on wrecking havoc and changing history to aide in the rise of the south. In Hell’s Marshal, Frank and his posse of walking dad and their coyote guide are after the renegade soul of Jesse James before he can revive the confederacy and rise up once more against the union.
They travel on a stage pulled by hell’s steeds, which never tire and move at incredible speeds, and they carry weapons with the power to send souls back to hell, where they belong. But, it isn’t easy to pursue their prey in bodies that have been dead a long time, causing extra difficulties to the chase. The coach is driven by a mortal man with special gifts and they’re joined by an orphan boy with the power to see souls raised from the fiery pit.
In Hell’s Butcher, John Wilkes Booth is the renegade soul, back to build an army to finish the government takeover, the conspiracy around the assassination failed to complete, and Frank and his posse must send them back. In a chase filled with misdirection, and battles with demonic souls inhabiting living bodies, there is no way to triumph without further damning the posse members’ souls.
I absolutely love these story lines and must say these books are well crafted. Barili does a smash up job of drawing the reader into his world, where condemned souls can walk among the living. My only problem with these books is the fact that Frank doesn’t seem to change much. Guilt and self-loathing are Frank’s fatal flaws as the protagonist, and although it doesn’t necessarily be resolved, there should at least be some evident change by the end of each story arc. Even by the end of the second book, although he reasons that people should not have to suffer for things they’ve done due to circumstances beyond their control, yet he still resigns himself to whatever punishment the judges dole out, feeling he deserves it, unable to apply the lesson to his own situation, and he is unable to forgive himself.
Both books in this series, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher are entertaining tales with refreshingly original story lines. Each book could be stand alone stories. Regardless of the one glitch found in the protagonist’s character arc, they are fun reads that keep the pages turning. I give them both four quills.
If you like the Hell’s Butcher series as much as I did, you’ll want to be sure and grab the prequel, Guilty, which is now also available. Guilty tells the story the events in Frank’s life that brought him before the judges and put him in the position to serve as Hell’s Marshal. This book offers insight into Frank’s character, so we can see where all that self-loathing comes from, drawing the series together and giving it cohesion. It is a different, but wonderfully entertaining story line. I give Guilty five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
I’ve just had the pleasure of reviewing a new anthology of short fiction put out by Curiosity Quills Press. When asked if I’d like to review Chronology, I had the impression that it was a steampunk anthology, which is a genre I’m newly discovering. Some of the stories in this collection do have steampunk elements, such as Wind Up Hearts, the steampunk-ish romance that is sure to break readers’ hearts, by Bram Stoker Award finalist, Stan Swanson, or Flight of the Pegasus by Dr. Darin Kennedy. There’s also That Which is Hidden, a haunted steampunk-ish werewolf romance, by Julie Frost. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find the stories in Chronology to be a diverse mixture of speculative fiction.
Some are futuristic, leaning more toward science fiction, such as the apocalyptic Afterparty by Mark Woodring, Limited Liability, a futuristic outer space story by Matthew Graybosch or Gookie Visits Her Moma by G. Miki Hayden, an alternate universe science fiction story about a space bounty hunter whose current bounty takes her back to her home planet. Many others are more in the fantasy realm, such as Draconic King, by award winning author, James Wymore, or Yours Until the Ink Dries, a true faerie tale, as a young outcast girl discovers her true identity in her drawings, by Y.A. author Jordan Elizabeth. And then there are those stories that fall into the mythical realm, such as Strange Flesh, a well-crafted story of mythical creatures by Katie Young, or Wampus Cat, a tale of Appalachian legends come true by international bestselling author Scott Nicholson.
Still, others have a horror element or two, such as The Lair, a story of a cursed treasure hunt in jungle swamps, by best-selling independent author, Tony Healey, or Lava, a spectral love story by New York Times bestselling author, Piers Anthony, or In the Clutches of the Mummy Prince, by B.C. Johnson, which was not very scary. Also I had trouble relating with the main character in Johnson’s story, who wasn’t very likeable. There is also The Comeback, the weirdest zombie romance I’ve ever heard of, told from the zombie’s POV, by techno-thriller and MG fantasy author, Tara Tyler, and Inmate #85298, a chilling death row tale, by author and screenwriter, Andy Rausch.
Of course, there are also those stories that weren’t so easy to classify, including White Chapel, which sheds new light on the story of Jack the Ripper, by author, editor and podcast co-host, Andrew Buckley, or Signs Unseen, the story of a small town race war, by J.P. Moyahan, or Bait and Witch, a troublesome witch story by speculative fiction author, J.P. Sloan. There is also The Bull, by novelist and short story writer, J.R. Rain, which turns a Minotaur into a superhero, and The Unattended Life, a reminder to stop and smell the roses by J.E. Anckorn, and an intriguing airship romance, Above the Clouds, by Richard Roberts.
Yes, it is a big book, about 530 pages, but it is definitely a good read. In addition to the stories mentioned above there are the three I enjoyed the most, which I saved to tell you about in more detail. The following stories stuck out in my mind the most, but not in any particular order.
The Room Below, by novelist Wilbert Stanton is a horror story worthy of Lovecraft, or King. This story about a stay in a mental institution that puts One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to shame. It held my attention and kept me on the edge of my seat, and had a surprising, yet satisfying ending.
The Colorado King, by Nathan Yocum is a story in which survival is the name of the game as a father and daughter travel over post-apocalyptic badlands in search of kin and refuge, bringing with it some very hard lessons. This well-crafted tale grabs readers’ attention and doesn’t let go, yet it leaves readers feeling like there should be more, probably due to the fact that it is an excerpt. I’m guessing that it is from Yocum’s novel, The Zona.
And finally, Innocent Deception, by Matthew Cox is a well-crafted story which has a surprising reveal in its final pages. The daughter of a pharmaceutical company’s CEO is kidnapped and held for ransom, but the plan falls apart when the mother doesn’t want the kid back.
Overall, I give Chronology 3 Quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.