Book Review: The Magpie Coffin
“I wasn’t there to defend some kingdom or rescue a princess. I had come to burn the fucking world down.”Salem Covington
I was drawn to this book because of its “splatter western” theme (a sub genre that I don’t have much experience in but it sounds awesome), and because a bunch of trusted people I follow online were recommending it. In fact, it was the latest read for the Night Worms Book Party (google it). And so I settled in, not really sure what to expect. And now, on the other side, I’ve read some things I can never, ever forget. Dark, disturbing things.
SUMMARY: The year is 1875 and outlaw Salem Covington has spent the last twenty years collecting stories, possessions, and lives. Nicknamed “The Black Magpie” for his exploits during the war, Salem has carved a bloody trail across the western territories. Informed that his mentor, Comanche shaman Dead Bear, has been murdered. Salem vows vengeance on the perpetrators. Enlisting the help of an army scout and preserving the body of his mentor in a specially made coffin, he sets out in pursuit. But the choices of Salem’s past that earned him the moniker “Black Magpie” are riding hard behind him and the only weapon that can kill him might not be as far away as he thinks. The Magpie Coffin is an unrelenting tale of revenge, with precise brutality and extreme violence.
First of all, let me say this is an incredibly violent book. Like some hardcore gore, torture porn, extreme hyper-violence type of stuff. If you are squeamish in any kind of way you will have a hard time with some of the scenes. I watch and read a lot of rough stuff, but there were things in here that made my stomach turn. I won’t go into detail here, but you have been warned.
That being said, the fact that the violence was on another level is one reason why I loved this book. It’s a testament to the wit and writing of author Wile E. Young that there are so many creative and gruesomely detailed kills. And speaking of the writing, I really enjoyed the style. Young goes full on with the Old West colloquialisms, and the descriptive details of setting, characters, and fight scenes are perfect (and perfectly brutal). Never before have I been able to so vividly picture a man’s head being scalped (*retch*) or what would happen if someone was force fed a rattlesnake.
I really enjoyed the supernatural horror element woven into the story line. The protagonist Salem (an anti-hero if I’ve ever seen one) seems to have struck some kind of deal with the devil and also practices Native American ritual magic. He can’t be killed by normal guns, but he’s not completely invincible either. It was really cool to read the moments when he put the shaman sorcery to use, whether it was for healing a comrade or calling a giant bear to rain down hell. I also liked the simple set up: gunslinger traveling with prisoner/companion to wreak havoc on the men who killed his mentor (a classic revenge story with a set number of people he had to kill before the end of the book).
This book, while intense in numerous ways, is very, very good. It’s the first in a series (though the next isn’t written by the same author), so I’m interested to see where it goes. The Magpie Coffin has vibes of King’s Dark Tower series, but with the surprising, ferocious violence of Bone Tomahawk. And if that doesn’t entice you I don’t know what will.