Book Review: Dust
“I’m not a god-hunter. I’m a god-killer!”James Dee
Dust by Chris Miller is the latest iteration (book three) in the Splatter Western series being put out by Death’s Head Press. I’m enjoying this series mostly because the sub genre is a new one to me and I’m liking it more than I thought I would. Of course each book is a different plot and different author, but they all are cut from a similar cloth (one best described as King’s The Gunslinger meets Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk meets Tarantino’s Django Unchained). I will say a downside to each book being from a different author is that you are going to have unpredictable results in enjoyability. For me the first book in the series (Young’s Magpie Coffin) reigns supreme, but I think this third one edges out a little ahead of the second book (Ennebach’s Hunger on the Chisholm Trail).
SUMMARY: 1879: An unknown and timeless evil descends on East Texas. John Dee, bestowed with knowledge from beyond, moves through time and space, pursuing age-old horrors and ending their reign. As he seeks the hidden town of Dust to continue his lifework, another is hot on his heels, and will stop at nothing to rip the divine knowledge from Dee. As these opposing forces collide, Dee becomes both hero and villain in his quest against the Elders. He doesn’t have time to be sorry – THERE ARE GODS TO KILL.
Ok, so I read this book in one sitting and it was an interesting experience. Despite any qualms I had (and I definitely have some) there’s something about the story that envelops you into its world and takes you along for the ride. The beginning half is a little clunky (especially the first few pages, though they do a good job of setting up exactly what type of gore-filled violence you’re in for), but once the characters actually reach the town of Dust (a little before the halfway point) the pace picks up to breakneck speed in a near continuous flurry of gunfire of splattering body parts. Needless to say the second half of the book is my favorite.
I didn’t care much for any of the characters. I’m not sure if it is the writing or what, but I couldn’t get emotionally connected with any of them. I found myself skimming until I got to the gory parts. My favorite character is probably the lead James Dee (a grizzled Clint Eastwood type), who wields some pretty awesome magical powers, although we never learn where they came from. I appreciated his understanding/acceptance that he was doing dirty work to save the lives of others, and that though he may have a pure heart he’s not a good man.
And as far as characters go, I will say I was a little uncomfortable with the way the black characters are portrayed in the book. This especially goes for a main character Denarius, who immediately binds himself to Dee’s mission when Dee saves his life. I think it is mainly the way his dialogue is written (a lot of “yes suh” and “no suh” and the like) that made me feel uneasy, plus the slurs used by other white characters to describe him. I know the story is set in the late 1870s so its par for the course, but the way it’s written still felt cringey and awkward.
But if you can look past the character flaws (pun intended) there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. The violence is gleefully gratuitous and abundant, and the creature design of the horrors found in Dust are very interesting and vividly graphic. When I just let go of all pretense and saw this for the schlocky tale it is I was able to find a good deal of enjoyment (just think of it as a sleazy B-movie or ultra-violent video game and you’re good).
Like I said, overall I enjoyed the book. It has nods to the books that came before it (the gunslinger and sidekick from book one mixed with mentions of towns and events from book two), but it took the series to another level by focusing solely on Lovecraft-esque eldritch nightmares. I’m down for anything that riffs on the Lovecraft mythos, so that was an immediate plus for me. Lots of bloody good times to be had under the old-world Western sun.
If you want to learn more about Chris Miller and his work then check out his website (https://authorchrismiller.com/) or follow him on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/chrismillerauthor/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/CMWordslinger).