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Once Upon a Time in the Weird West by Astrid…
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Once Upon a Time in the Weird West

by Astrid Amara, Astrid Amara (Contributor), Shira Anthony (Contributor), Lex Chase (Contributor), Jana Denardo (Contributor)9 more, Jamie Fessenden (Contributor), Kim Fielding (Contributor), Andrew Q. Gordon (Contributor), Ginn Hale (Contributor), Langley Hyde (Contributor), Venona Keyes (Contributor), Nicole Kimberling (Contributor), C.S. Poe (Contributor), Tali Spencer (Contributor)

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Book – Once Upon a Time in the Weird West
Star rating - ★★★★☆
No. of Pages – 400
Cover – Gorgeous!
Would I read it again – Yes!
Genre – Speculative fiction, fantasy, western, LGBT


** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine


Combining some of the biggest names in MM fiction into one anthology, Once Upon a Time in the Weird West is a keeper!

~

Reaper's Ride, by Astrid Amara

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character
Length: 0-13%
Theme: the Devil

This story began an incredible journey. After a brief mention of scalping, attacks on postal routes and the authors incredible gift for world building, we're immediately settled into the desert scenery, in the middle of nowhere. Adding in extensive attention to detail, a well thought out plot and timing, with the added paranormal element, this story packed a punch. I loved the characterisation and originality. I would definitely read more of these characters and this world, without hesitation.

Favourite Quote

““How about this – you get everyone on that damned list done today, then come back here, and I'll make it worth your while.”
Sye's dimples reappeared. “Why, here I thought you were an upstanding young gentleman.”
“Whatever it takes to keep you motivated through the night.””

~

Wild, Wild Heart, by Shira Anthony

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, dual character
Length: 13%-20%
Theme: Steampunk

Wow! I loved this one. It had an emotional punch that left me reeling for a while. Instead of jumping into writing my review and moving on to the next story, I had to take a bit of a break, figure out my feelings and how to get them down into proper, understandable words. The steampunk, clockwork element was fantastically written, with such an intense attention to detail that every moment of clockwork and animation felt alive. There was a touch of the Iron Man Arc Reactor in the clockwork element that I loved! But I also really liked that we got the POV of both characters, because although Al was a great guy and a good POV, it was Cyrus who made me fall in love with the story. It was shorter than the previous story, but it was oh-so sweet!

Favourite Quote

““What are you making?” he asked when he first watched his master work.
“A gift” was his masters reply. “For you.”
“For me? Al didn't deserve such a gift. “But I–”
“I will give you life, and you will in turn devote that life to me.” His master opened his hand to reveal a gleaming silver watch, or what Al thought was a watch until his master said, “This is your life, Aloysius. A heart that will heal you. And in return for this gift,” his master added, “you will be my legacy.””

~

Dr. Ezekiel Crumb's Heavenly Soul Purifying Elixir, by Lex Chase

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character
Length: 20-26%
Theme: Alien

This was a great new twist on the whole 'supernatural' element of a western. Not only did it explore the present day in a way that was believable and fun, but it had a great attention to detail for the past and the way it explored such a small location as Ezekiel's wagon, without feeling like the story was being oppressed or confined in any way. I loved the characters – Ezekiel was a great showman and yet so wounded underneath the façade. Levi was an enigma that slowly unraveled to reveal that he was just as broke.

Favourite Quote

“You've lost yourself, haven't you? Levi whispered in return. He reached up once again, cupping Ezekiel's cheek. “You could have been anyone. Instead you became a false prophet peddling moonshine strong enough to strip paint at forty paces.”

~

Corpse Powder, by Jana Denardo

★★★☆☆

POV: 3rd person, dual character
Length: 27-26%
Theme: Steampunk, Skinwalkers

The concept of bringing a Jewish man and a Navajo together was intriguing. I feel, however, that the first few pages really let it down.
The choice of language was something strange, with no sense of timing, as the character drifted between three or four different locations within one paragraph, without a good flow of explanation. It felt confusing, at first, because of that and it was hard to imagine the scene and locations because there was so little description available.
I didn't get the whole way of writing God as G-d, either. It felt strange and jarred me out of the flow of the story more than once.
As did the multiple names for Tsela; Alexander, Zahni and Tsela were all used frequently, swapping one out for another throughout the story. It wouldn't have been so confusing if one name had been used throughout the story writing and another within the dialogue, to show that he had all these various names. Instead, they were used in place of each other that it often became confusing.
It also didn't help that the entire 10% of the story was one long chapter, with the only break being between scenes. It made it a little more difficult to read in one sitting, because it was harder on the eyes.
Saying that, I enjoyed the crux of the story. The skinwalker, the two main characters both affected differently by the war, the airships and the steampunk elements were fine. Once the story got started, about 3% in, the writing improved and the story had more flow; the characters came into their own and the whole thing began to come together. But it felt very much like too much was being forced into a small space and we were given no real sense of setting.

Favourite Quote

“Sleep wouldn't come easy, not just because of the strange attack, but because he thought Alexander telling him his Navajo name meant something important. Isaac had been shown a way in, but was it merely friendship, or could he dare dream or something more?”

~

The Sheriff of Para Siempre, by Jamie Fessenden

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character (and an epilogue from another character)
Length: 36-44%
Theme: Zombie/Reanimation

I'm a blubbering mess right now, so if I'm not making sense, you can blame it on Jamie Fessenden. Quite simply, this story broke me. It broke my heart and it made me speechless. The story is told in a diary-like 1st person narrative that is absolutely perfect. I usually don't get along with 1st person, but this one needed it. And the dedication to the language, the detail and the perfect balance between giving us enough to build a world and not going over the top made me feel like I was watching an old Clint Eastwood movie, right until the paranormal stuff happened. It's so perfectly a western and yet so perfectly paranormal. And, I know, I keep using the word perfect, but it really is. It's the only fitting thing.
Another thing I really loved was that this is the first story in the anthology that has an established couple as the main characters, which was really great, because I could feel the chemistry between them right from the start. It's also the first to have on-page, explicit sex scenes, which weren't bad, either.
I thought the last chapter killed me, but it was the Epilogue of Wyatt Long's diary entry that really did me in.
As for the rest of it, I can't tell you much except that you have to read it.

Favourite Quote

““Do you ever wonder about all that Bible stuff?”
“Not much.”
“You don't think we're endangerin' our immortal souls, or whatever the heck Ellie said?”
Billy snorted. Then he kissed me nice and sweet on the mouth. When he was done, he said, “I ain't worried about it. If God don't want my soul, when I die, you can have it.””

~

The Tale of August Hayling, by Kim Fielding

★★★☆☆

POV: 3rd person, one character
Length: 44-50%
Theme: Dragon

This was an odd one for me and the shortest of the stories so far, which might account for that. I really felt like the story was building up to a friendship or romance between George and August, with all the sharing and the understanding they attempted with each other, though it was slight. However, the ending was really off-putting and didn't fit with the rest of the story.
I liked the dragon/hunter aspect of the story and it made sense of George's up to that point, but once we met Sarkany, things just turned on their head and happened way too fast. Perhaps if less time had been spent on the travelling and more time given to the end events, it wouldn't have felt that way. But, sadly, I just found it all really unbelievable. I didn't understand or warm to August much, as there was little characterisation and half the explanations of him that we got hinted at some kind of otherworldly origins that were never followed through on or explained. I also found his acceptance of the dragon situation – and his decision to give up everything he'd ever known for one man that he'd only just met – as bordering on ridiculous.
Unfortunately, not a story I'd read again.

Favourite Quote

““Never been questing in my lifetime. Don't reckon I'm the type. But anytime my life's been up the spout, I try an' do things different. I'd do it as a ghost too. If my questing wasn't working, I'd try it a new way.”
“I cannot find a new way,” George whispered. And after that he said nothing at all.”

~

Time Zone, by Andrew Q. Gordon

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character
Length: 50-57%
Theme: Enhanced Abilities, Contemporary

This one really, really confused me. It was a great story, but there wasn't one ounce of a western about it. I kept expecting Wesley's gift to jump them into a western time zone or setting, but it didn't happen. Everything about this story was contemporary super-hero related.
I liked the characters and great writing, world building and the easy flow of the story, but due to the anthology it's included in, I kept waiting for something that never came. My rating is for the story itself, as a singular entity, but if I were rating it in relation to the anthology, I'd have to knock a mark off for the lack of connection to a western.

Favourite Quote

“Lothar's smooth baritone was all the contact I was allowed with my handler. Handler? He was more like my guardian angel. I wanted to meet the man behind the damn sexy voice, but face-to-face consultations violated a safety protocol. More likely he was an AI, and they didn't want me to know I had a major boner for a computer program.”

~

Get Lucky, by Ginn Hale

★★★☆☆

POV: 3rd person, one character
Length: 58-67%
Theme: Magic, Dinosaurs, Pinkertons

This story is part of a world that I'm unfamiliar with. It doesn't say that you have to have read the novella The Long Past to understand it, but I'm pretty sure that might be the case. Unfortunately, for me, there was just far too much crammed into this story that didn't make sense. I'm guessing the year is sometime in the last 1800's, since it mentions New York, mortgages and denim all in one story and the latter didn't exist until around the 1870's. There are dinosaurs, however, which really messed with my understanding of the timeline, especially since we got no indication of the year until 2% into the story, which is a lot considering the story is only 9% in total. There are also Pinkerton's, water mages, clockwork automatons, spells and an official US government branch for magic users.
For me, the character of Lucky was intriguing, but there was just so much outside stuff going on that it was hard to get a focus on anything. I found my attention wandering, too exhausted to take in all this information and try to figure out if it was historically accurate to include in this time frame or not and then wondering if I'd missed something, because...hello...unexplained dinosaurs roaming around!
By the time the dino's were explained, I really felt like that should have come first or should have been something explained with more importance and urgency.
I also hate to say that I didn't get a western feel, at all. The Pinkerton thing kind of helped, but it was more like a fantasy story than a western with a twist; it felt like the 'western' aspect really took a back seat and the story lacked a little, because of that.
I didn't feel much chemistry between the star-crossed lovers, either and found that the whole misunderstanding and the danger aspect were glossed over too quickly and with little real plot forwarding. They felt less important than the reunion and Lucky's hurt feelings, which could also be said for the huge revelation that Lucky was about to step into a new future, thanks to the news Dalfon had come to deliver. The ending addressed none of that aspect of the story, though it was apparently the driving force for everything that had happened.

Favourite Quote

“Sure this man resembled Dalfon, but a scarlet snake resembling a coral snake didn't make them the same thing. And mistaking one for the other could get a man killed.”

~

From Ancient Grudge to New Mutiny, by Langley Hyde

★★★★★

POV: 3rd person, one character
Length: 67-73%
Theme: Romeo-Juliet, Mages

I really liked this one. It had that classic Romeo and Juliet storyline, in a brand new way. I loved the chemistry between James and Frank, the simplicity of it all and the natural way that the mage aspect flowed within the western setting.
I would have liked to have seen the final scenes in full, rather than an “imagine this” scenario, but it worked, somehow.

Favourite Quote

“He couldn't see another way out. In order to save his life, he had to clear the Montgomery name. Tonight.”

~

POMH, by Verona Keyes

★★★★☆

POV: 3rd person, one character, with one scene of another character
Length: 73-80%
Theme: Steampunk

It took me a little while to warm up to this story, because there were quite a few info dumps of background story that we had to learn, before moving off into the next scene. Though I understand the need for them and the few moments of flashback conversations, it did jar the reading a little.
There was also a continuity, understanding issue with the scene in the prison cell. A visitor stops by the to see POHM, but the POV changes abruptly from Lorem's to POHM without warning and doesn't make sense for a while, because there's a person there when there wasn't before and there's no arrival, no suddenly someone appearing or blinking and a person is there. It's just a person talks and is referred to as “the man” without any explanation whatsoever and I had to go back to re-read the half page before it to make sure I hadn't missed something.
I loved the ending and that salvaged the story for me. It made sense, it was well written and I loved the way that the chemistry and affection felt real, even though only one character had been present through the entire story.

Favourite Quote

“He ran to see what was the matter, and there lay Xander's body broken in the street, trampled to death by a trek carriage. He pushed by all the people, knelt next to the lifeless young man, and lifted him into his arms. A scream rent the air, and Sienna ran over to Loren and her dead brother.”

~

Oh, Give Me a Home, by Nicole Kimberling

★★★☆☆

POV: 3rd person, one character
Length: 80-85%
Theme: Space, Terraforming

I loved that we once again had an established couple and that I could feel the chemistry between them right from the start. The space, terraforming and robot idea was great and really well written. The slight criminal aspect was a good diversion and something that allowed some natural character exploration and development, while showing us the strength of the relationship. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Favourite Quote

“A couple of lusty Leroys who'd landed by each other had decided to hump instead.
“They're at it again,” Henry remarked. “You'd think they'd go after a Shirley.”
Gordon shrugged. “Some Leroys prefer the simplicity of other Leroys, apparently.””

~

Gunner the Deadly, by C.S. Poe

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character
Length: 85-92%
Theme: Steampunk

I loved this little snippet of western-steampunk crossover. The technology, the world building and the writing are excellent. The story is unique and clever, with just enough of a dash of danger. The chemistry between the main characters was great, very real and palpable right from the start.

Favourite Quote

““Your surprise tells me you didn't come to Shallow Grave for me, Special Agent Hamilyon,” Gunner said quietly.
“Rumor had it you were in Tombstone.”
“I left. Too many Earps and too many cowboys for my liking.””

~

After the Wind, by Tali Spencer

★★★★★

POV: 1st person, one character
Length: 92-99%
Theme: Elementals

This was fantastic! I liked that the 'elementals' were given their own name of 'weirdlings' to separate them from the type of elementals we know from other stories. I loved the way that it showed the Comanches in a good light, showing their brotherhood and their acceptance of the strange and unusual, without demonising them. The chemistry between the characters was great and well explored throughout the story, even with one being blindfolded for half the story.

Favourite Quote

““I've thought about you,” he said. Again he ducked his head, but this time he rested his forehead on my shoulder.
It was all I could do to not bury my face in his scent of fresh rainwater. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. A lot.”
“Not as much as I thought about you.” Being this near to him, my body burned. When I took the chance and placed my hands on his arms, his skin felt cool and so damn welcome.”

~

Overall, this was a fantastic compilation of speculative fiction and western themed stories. Though I loved the majority of them, I have to admit that The Sheriff of Para Siempre, by Jamie Fessenden was my favourite. It just got me, right in the feels and didn't let go, even after the story was done. ( )
  ElleLainey | Dec 30, 2017 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Astrid Amaraprimary authorall editionscalculated
Amara, AstridContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Anthony, ShiraContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Chase, LexContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Denardo, JanaContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Fessenden, JamieContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Fielding, KimContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Gordon, Andrew Q.Contributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Hale, GinnContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Hyde, LangleyContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Keyes, VenonaContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kimberling, NicoleContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Poe, C.S.Contributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Spencer, TaliContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Reaper’s Ride by Astrid Amara -- Wild, Wild Heart by Shira Anthony -- Dr. Ezekiel Crumb’s Heavenly Soul Purifying Elixir by Lex Chase -- Corpse Powder by Jana Denardo -- The Sheriff of Para Siempre by Jamie Fessenden -- The Tale of August Hayling by Kim Fielding -- Time Zone by Andrew Q. Gordon -- Get Lucky by Ginn Hale -- From Ancient Grudge to New Mutiny by Langley Hyde -- POMH by Venona Keyes -- Oh, Give Me a Home by Nicole Kimberling -- Gunner the Deadly by C.S. Poe -- After the Wind by Tali Spencer
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