Iconic writer Mercedes Lackey steps aside from her usual fantasy fanfare along with fellow science fiction romanticist Rosemary Edghill to collaborate on a different kind of adventure. On the outside, Dead Reckoning
could be just another western novel. Okay, the zombies in the background on the cover might hint at a few elements of horror. But on the inside, the reader will find a fledgling Steampunk mystery introducing some intriguing characters.
The story takes place in West Texas shortly after the Civil War. The small town of Alsop is not unlike most others in the area, waiting with high hopes that the railroads will someday stretch past and open them up to the rest of the world. But what makes Alsop so different is its sudden absence of population. Again, there is the little matter of a wave of zombies occasionally pillaging through the town.
The storyline has just enough mystery to keep the pages turning while the vivid attention to detail puts the reader at home in the old west of 1867. For a horror story, the violence is not overly graphic and the science fits neatly for the Steampunk edge. But what really makes Dead Reckoning work so well is the intricate ongoing development of the three main characters.
Jett Gallatin is a wily young gambler and gunslinger. After losing four older brothers and both parents during the War Between the States, the chance of a twin brother still being alive is the only hope keeping kept Jett going. But in this rough world of the untamed west, one must never show a weakness. And hiding the secret that Jett is actually a seventeen year old girl disguised as a man is vital to her chances of staying alive. Her self-awareness of who she is and who she is trying to portray is the building block of her personality and what makes her character believable.
Honoria Verity Providentia Gibbons is the astute young daughter of eccentric genius and inventor Jacob Saltinstall Gibbons. With a keen sense of logic and observation, she takes it upon herself to uncover fraudulent investment seekers intent on bilking money from her gullible father. The rumors of phantom airships and mysterious disappearances has piqued the elder Gibbons‘s interests, resulting in his daughter’s arrival in Alsop. Traveling in her steam powered Auto-Tachypode and equipped with some of her father’s other inventions, her character nudges this western tale into theSsteampunk realm with her wealthy Victorian style and fantastic gadgetry.
Wapeshk Wakoshe, also known as White Fox, is a young scout for the Tenth Cavalry from Kansas who is also investigating the strange disappearances. The character of White Fox is less of a focal point and more of a supportive role to the two women. Even though he is a strong individual and influential in a lot of the action, he still falls into the side-kick role. White Fox is the Tonto to Jett’s Lone Ranger persona and the Doctor Watson to Gibbons’ Holmesian investigations.
Together, the three characters get entwined in the mystery surrounding the lost townspeople of Alsop and eventually discover the plot behind the strange horde of zombies. Along the way, the reader is able to form a bond with each character individually as more and more of their backgrounds are divulged. But the cohesiveness of the story is truly bonded by the relationship between the threesome. These characters are comfortable in their roles as loners with differing backgrounds. But as a group, the trio’s connection is reminiscent of sibling familiarity bringing true emotion and humor to an otherwise chilling setting. This aspect should hit home with the young adult audience.
Dead Reckoning is a successful collaboration between Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill with a dedicated examination of fantastic characters and their relationships which develop out of necessity. This is a story fitting for many ages and different genre shelves including Western, Mystery, Horror and Steampunk. But regardless of one’s interest, it is through the strong characters where the reader will get the most satisfaction while building an inevitable anticipation of further adventures.