Western Wednesday Book Review – Graves for Drifters and Thieves by Sophia Minetos

I liked the idea of this book – a western-fantasy for young adults, about a teenage bounty hunter girl and an outlaw teen boy who end up working together, fighting the black hat warlock, across the desert wastes of an alternative world that somewhat resembles the ‘wild west.’ That does sound fun, doesn’t it?

Intellectually, I think I want to see more new western-and-other-genre mash ups (along with ‘straight up’ westerns.) Anything to get more readers nearer the western genre. Targeting younger readers by writing ‘young adult’? Absolutely, excellent idea.

So, I decided to give this genre-mash a try.

And perhaps if I was a young adult fantasy reader, this book would of been quite fun.

I really must try and remember that I’ve never really liked fantasy epics (or YA) all that much, and it is probably fairer if I refrain from accepting ARCs of high fantasies in the future.

Ah, yes, I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this honest review. Thank you for the opportunity, Ms Minetos.

Unfortunately, for me, this book felt too long, the pace wandering about along a fairly predictable plot, which included a very typical young adult Harlequinesque romance sub-plot, alongside the already mentioned thing about the bounty hunter trying to find her father and the outlaw trying to do…whatever it is he’s trying to do.

While the over-all arc was predictable, there were a few plot points that were surprises.

One world-building flaw that bothered me more than it probably should have is that the snake-headed member of the outlaw gang never, as far as I can remember, received any sort of back story beyond the fact that he’s a snakey-headed creature, apparently significantly older than the teenage-ish leader of the gang, and he can run alongside the gang’s horses, even when they’re galloping all day. Why is he attached to this outlaw gang? I have no idea. Why isn’t he it’s leader? I mean, he’s big and strong and scary looking and has decades more experience. Wouldn’t he be the natural leader of an outlaw gang? There must be a reason why he’s not. What is it? No idea.

It seemed strange that this character got no background, because this book is fairly lengthy, and if anything sometimes spends a bit too long teasing out background and prologue to the main story.

While the body count mounts quickly in the grand finale, there are a number of fights and conflicts and threatening moments earlier which are strangely Disneyfied – with no one getting seriously hurt, and after a few of these, it’s harder to be worried when another ‘danger’ moment comes along, because you’ve developed the expectation that no-one will be seriously hurt, so what does it matter what goes down next? everyone will be basically fine anyway. Perhaps this early lack of bodily harm is a function of it’s ‘young-adult-ness.’

I had the occasional difficulty following some action sequences. It felt like this book could of used another edit to address it’s pacing issues, and to perhaps trim out a batch of words. (Although, I guess fantasies tend to be on the longer side, so perhaps, again, a fantasy reader would of been more comfortable with this book than I was. I frankly found it a bit of a chore to get through at times.)

Positives: It is still a cool idea, this fantasy-western mash-up, with ghost riders and warlocks and portals to different worlds – I especially liked the idea in the book that memories could be sung into the land and then the land could re-play those memories to passerby. It is clear that Ms. Minetos has seen a few westerns, and presumably enjoyed them. And who doesn’t like the idea of a girl bounty hunter kicking butt?

While this book did not prove to be ‘for me,’ and I don’t think I’d be particularly interested in book 2, I could see myself theoretically recommending it and the series it starts to someone younger and more into the epic fantasy series thing than I am. I expect that the work will improve as it goes along. I wish Ms. Minetos the best of luck with this saga.

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