Author: Mercedes Lackey, Rosemary Edghill & Jane Hodson
Genre: Western, Horror, Zombies, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: June 2012
Hardcover: 336 Pages
Jett is a girl disguised as a boy, living as a gambler in the old West as she searches for her long-lost brother. Honoria Gibbons is a smart, self-sufficient young woman who also happens to be a fabulous inventor. Both young women travel the prairie alone – until they are brought together by a zombie invasion! As Jett and Honoria investigate, they soon learn that these zombies aren’t rising from the dead of their own accord … but who would want an undead army? And why? This gunslinging, hair-raising, zombie western mashup is perfect for fans of Cowboys vs. Aliens and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.
Stand alone or series: Can be read as a standalone novel, but perhaps the first in a series?
How did I get this book: e-ARC from the Publisher (via NetGalley)
Why did I read this book: Western. Girl dressing up as boy gunslinger. Zombies. Western. Mercedes Lackey. Western. OF COURSE I was going to read Dead Reckoning!
Cardsharp. Gunslinger. Outlaw. Decked out in black and studded with silver from head to toe, Jett Gallatin cuts a stunning figure. With his fine black stallion and well worn slick pistols, Jett looks like the kind of young man that boys want to emulate, and girls want to sweep them off their feet. What most folk don’t realize, though, is that everything about Jett – from the slightly flamboyant wardrobe to the tightly and slightly higher holstered double pistols – is painstakingly crafted to create and project a persona so that no one will ever suspect one devastating truth: Jett Gallatin is a girl.
When the Civil War came, it claimed Jett’s twin brother as a soldier, leaving Jett and her family behind on their New Orleans plantation. With the defeat of the south came plundering Yankees and the end of the kind of life Jett always knew. To make any sense of this new world, she decides to leave her home and search for her lost brother, under the guise of a man – a game that the twins used to play when they were children, now a necessary way of life for Jett as she travels alone across the wild frontier of the west. Jett’s last stop takes her to the one-street (but rapidly growing, thanks to the new railroad) town Alsop, Texas – but the town doesn’t stay quiet for long. Not an hour after she rides in and makes the usual inquiries at the town saloon does trouble come roaring in after her – a hoard of impossibly strong, impossibly alive zombies attack the town. Guns and weapons have no effect on their terrible onslaught, and soon the town is overrun, all her inhabitants dead. Jett, thanks to her trusty steed Nightingale, is barely able to make it out alive.
A few miles away, Jett runs into two unlikely allies in her quest to figure out just what kind of undead menace is sweeping through the southwest, and why. Honoria Gibbons is a beautiful, highly intelligent, and extremely unconventional young woman – the only child of a very rich (and also very eccentric) man, Honoria has had the time and the means to devote her life to the pursuit of science, and she has no qualms about traveling alone as a woman in the west, thanks to the incredible invention of her auto-tachypode (a horseless mechanized transportation device). White Fox, with his dark skin and his horse saddled in the Indian style with just a single blanket and rope for bridle, could easily be mistaken for a Native. And in truth, he is – a young man that was orphaned as a child, White Fox was taken in and raised to be one of the Meshkwahihaki, or Red Earth people. Now, a scout for the tenth Cavalry out of Fort Riley, Kansas, White Fox is a Buffalo Soldier seeking out mysterious disappearances of whole towns and caravans in the area.
Together, Jett, Gibbons, and White Fox will find their paths converge, and will work to discover why people are disappearing and to what sinister end.
Dead Reckoning is, at first glance, a melange of very familiar tropes: one part steampunkish western (but really NOT steampunk – one steampowered contraption does not a steampunk novel make), one part girl-dressed-as-boy to survive/get information, one part plucky unconventional-but-effortlessly-beautiful heroine, one part orphan-raised-as-Indian, all mixed in with zombies. The elements are all very familiar. That said, there is plenty of fun and even some innovation to be found in Dead Reckoning, especially with regard to Jett Gallatin (whom I consider the true hero of the piece – Gibbons and White Fox are great, to be sure, but this book really is Jett’s). Easily, the best thing about Dead Reckoning is the character of Jett. Most times when I read a book about a girl dressed as a boy (or when the trope is depicted on the big screen), there’s always a level of disbelief – these are usually very pretty girls that hack off their hair (or some of the more disingenuous put on a wig), and almost automatically are taken as slightly odd but passable young men. Contrasting this sort of half-assed attempt at passing as a man against the very calculated and intelligent Jett and her impersonation: Jett very carefully decides to draw attention to herself as a gunslinger and an outlaw (naturally she has the speed and straight shooting to back herself up). She smiles at pretty girls to complete the facade, and she knows when and from who trouble is coming thanks to her very keen and observant eye. For Jett, her very survival depends on her facade – and her facade is very, very good. Too, Dead Reckoning explores the effects that this impersonation has on Jett’s identity – even though her new friends know she is a girl, Jett lives and breathes her role, to the point where she doesn’t ever stop talking or acting like Jett. It’s fascinating, and very genuine, really.
In contrast, the other two characters of Gibbons and White Fox are also strong, but somewhat less impressive. Gibbons – beautiful, brilliant, and highly eccentric – is a very familiar type of character in and of herself. The rapport that builds between this woman, who has no problem going around as a single woman in uncharted territory, and Jett is an interesting friendship (though Honoria’s constant, unceasing referral to SCIENCE! and RATIONALITY! is a bit grating at times). White Fox on the other hand is a character that barely gets screentime in comparison to the book’s two heroines. What we do learn of White Fox, his past, and the motivations that drive him, however, is well-conceived (if very sad).
On the plotting front, however, things are slightly less impressive. I love zombies and I love westerns. The mixture of the two is always a fun thing – and essentially that is what Dead Reckoning is. Fun. The story proper, involving Crazy Cultists and MoneyxPowerxRespect, is well written and competent, but small in scale and predictable once we catch our first glimpse of New Jerusalem and its inhabitants. That said, predictability and smaller scale novels aren’t necessarily bad things, and there are enough twists on the features of this particular type of zombie – more in tune with The Serpent and the Rainbow than Night of the Living Dead – to make up for any shortcomings in terms of basic/banal plotting. And isn’t that the important thing the having fun while reading part? I think so. Ultimately, Dead Reckoning is an enjoyable novel with a great protagonist and a diverting storyline. Should Jett, Gibbons and White Fox team up again for a future adventure, I’ll certainly be there.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:
West Texas, April 1867
Jett Gallatin expected trouble in Alsop, Texas – but not zombies.
As the evening breeze blew dust and tumbleweed across the town’s main – and only – street, a gleaming black stallion picked his way along it. The stallion seemed to be the one choosing his own path; his rider sat motinless in the saddle, reins loose, hat pulled down too low for anyone to get a good look at whatever it concealed.
There wasn’t much to the town yet, just a street with a livery stable at one end and a church at the other, but last year money on four hooves had come to Alsop. The railroad had reached Abilene, Kansas, and a beeve worth five dollars in Texas was worth forty if you could get him to the railhead in Abilene. Alsop had reaped the reward of being one of the towns near the head of Jesse Chisholm’s trail; the town’s new prosperity could be seen by the fact that there were more horses in front of the saloon than there were places to hitch them.
Rating: 6 – Good
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