Book Review: Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising By Jeffrey J. Mariotte
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Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising
Paperback | Kindle
Written by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
Illustrated by Steve Ellis
Cover by Aaron J. Riley
Tor Books
Release Date: September 20, 2016

A western/horror-themed role-playing game is turning out books and I’m being offered the chance to review one? Uh, YES! That was pretty much my thought process when it happened. I’m about as country as a skyscraper, but I have always had a soft spot for western novels. Mash that up with my love of RPGs and horror and it’s a match (mashup?) made in heaven (hell?). Eh, whatever. Let’s talk about Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising, shall we? That’s why we are all here, right? Well then, let’s go!

So, here we have a tale of what is on the back book cover affectionately called the Weird West. That couldn’t be more accurate, if you ask me. Strange things are happening in a tiny town in the Arizona Territory. It starts with animals being slaughtered in the most horrific ways and is soon followed by macabre slayings of local townfolk and ranch hands. As the story moves forward we get glimpses of what is causing it, though it makes no sense to the locals or the reader, for that matter. It gets progressively more violent until it almost seems that walking outside will get you killed. Only one man seems brave enough to follow the trail of death and destruction to its source, even though he might forfeit his life doing so. That man is Tucker Bringloe, former Union Officer turned drunken vagabond.

Bringloe stumbled upon the problem, quite literally, after one of the murders. Following a dangerous and deadly chase, he comes away with a healthy respect for the killer and though he tries to rally the town and gain information, he finds many people reluctant, or even resistant, to helping him track down those responsible.

But while many people are scared, others still seem to have another agenda entirely. Even the Colonel at the local fort admonished him for his crazy tales and banned him from returning. Local ranchers are desperate to stop the killings as it directly affects their ability to stay in business, finding many of their stock are slain nightly. Even though he is being denied official assistance, Bringloe continues to seek the truth and enlisting the aid of the few people willing to help. But you’ll never guess what’s really going on in this frontier town. It’s far deadlier than anyone could have imagined, for it feels as if the devil himself is walking the night.

I expected a fun story that revolves around the game setting or maybe even forces a few of the game mechanics into the thread, helping to tie it into the system itself. I was pleasantly surprised to find none of that at all. No trappings of RPGs exist within this tale. Instead, we get an expertly written novel from Jeffrey J. Mariotte that redefines the concept of the western story. Heavily laden with mysterious undertones and dank, dark settings, this tale circles around and around like a maelstrom pulling the reader deeper within its clutches, disallowing any retreat. You’ll find yourself forgoing sleep in order to read just one more chapter, only to leave you wanting to read even more.

And unlike the vast majority of books in this day and age, this one comes with illustrations scattered throughout. But not just some pencil and ink drawings; no, these are more like old wooden carvings, expertly rendered by Steve Ellis to show depth and emotion in the simplest of ways. In fact, were it not for the publication date in the book, I would have thought they were copies of something from the nineteenth century. That’s how expertly era-oriented they are!

This book has such broad appeal that I hesitate to mention any one demographic that might enjoy it more than another. Within this story we have a variety of genres: horror, fantasy, western, romance, historical fiction, and more. Plus, you don’t have to have any connection with the game to enjoy this. I say that because I know almost nothing about the bestselling role-playing game. I will, however, be looking into it along with this particular author and other books in this series. It has made me a fan and I’ve never even played the game! That’s how convincing this writer has been. He has managed to create within me an interest in all things Deadlands.

If for some reason that isn’t enough for you, then please note that Mariotte is also a comic book writer and has penned over fifty other novels, too. How this guy hasn’t made it onto my radar before is baffling. Go get this book and read it. It is almost four hundred pages of spectacular spookiness, perfect for this time of the year!

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