This one reads fast for a western, though the atmosphere and slow burn that are the hallmarks are certainly there. The world-building is about average for the genre: An unnamed event of the past has left the Western half of the country a wasteland while the elites live it up in domed cities on the Eastern seaboard. Somehow, the Chinese were involved, but that seems to be the story better left for the second and third parts. What is here is a powerful and quiet scavenger and seeker, a woman who pulls what's valuable from what's been left to rot and has a wide-ranging reputation in all circles, erudite and non. She takes a job she regrets almost immediately, but settles in with a fatalistic approach that's never suicidal. Along for the ride is a soft urbanite thinking he's going on a field trip and finds out that the fairy tale stories are fluffy cover for the immediacy and graphic world of the real.
Once the main action gets going, things tend to keep moving quickly; there's not much breathing room between one event and the next, which makes the slow pacing of the exposition for the sequels that much more noticeable, and not always in a good way. In a moment of an "I didn't expect to find THIS!" trope, we're confronted with something that is readily apparent won't have any type of payoff story-wise in this volume, and ends up bogging not only the characters' progress but the narrative down, as well. There's really not a whole lot of explanation given as to why Puck (our anti-heroine) would invest the time she does to it, but unlike earlier moments of enjoyable vagueness that enrich her character and elaborate on the tone, this just feels like "I have to take this with me and I'm not going to tell you why until you grab book two." Luckily for us, she manages to get it to safekeeping before the big climax push at the end, and the reward of the final action more than make up for the interlude. Though some actions seem out of character here and there, Puck is right at home in the world Fitzgerald has built, a mix of harsh reality and steely resolve mixed with an astoundingly wondrous sense of appreciation at even the smallest of creature comforts. It's cowboy Zen, and it makes for a character more well rounded than the typical fare of the genre.
There's enough of the good to make me interested in seeing the payoff of continuing the series, and Puck is a character that breaks the mold in all the right ways to make it a really fun read. I think fans of Westerns in general and Django Unchained in particular (but with some sci-fi) will enjoy this story. I've still got issues with trilogies, but if that's your bag, then you'll certainly will want to check out what promises to be a good one.
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