Mildred Berry...

I don't think I have ever read a fantasy western before, even though I rather like space westerns. This one has received some high praise from certain people on BookTube and it sports a very manageable page count, so I decided to give it a shot since I needed something to read on a flight while traveling for work.

4/5 I don't know if I like fantasy westerns as much as I do space westerns, but I found NO LAND FOR HEROES to be a delightfully creative and engrossing story even if it's a little rough around the edges. 

The first question that might come to mind with this book is, "What is a fantasy western?" I can't really speak for the subgenre as a whole, but at least in this case, we have a very traditional western setting in which various fantastical creatures like elves or dragons happen to exist. Our main character herself is an elf, and an albino one at that, which makes her markedly different from even her own kin. She lives in a town filled with other misfits and things are going pretty well for them until a heist goes sideways and a rich banker arrives with a detective-for-hire to investigate the incident. One of the aspects of this book that I enjoyed the most is the carefully constructed plot and very deliberate pacing that the author clearly put a lot of labor into. We are immediately greeted to an exciting action scene which gives us a great sense of who our main protagonists are and what they are capable of. The main source of conflict is revealed right away, though we will later find out that there is more going on than the gang simply landing in hot water after their train heist is waylaid by a giant. blue dragon. The story is told across multiple points of view which gave the whole adventure a rather cinematic feel to it. I loved all the twists and turns as things develop and it was a treat to learn more about the colorful pasts that some characters have. 

Another very strong aspect of the novel is all of the meticulous character work that Black lays out for us. There is our main character Mildred Berry, an albino elf whose albinism should make her a potent magic user, though she seems to cancel any magic out when she engages with it. She also happens to be the mother of two precious little girls who are depicted in a remarkably believable way given how hard it often is to get child characters right in fiction. Ryan, Annie, and Sweetpea are all wonderful friends to Millie as well as really interesting and nuanced characters in their own right. I think Sweetpea in particular will be a favorite for many people just as she was for me (something about a horned demon-looking creature who bakes cookies and wears fancy, frilly dresses was too delightful not to love). I'd also be remiss to omit the brave and "handsome" Fyodor who might be the goodest boy of them all (he's a dog, in case that wasn't clear). Coming from outside the borders of Scorched Bluffs are Hal and Gil, two city slickers who arrive to investigate the incident with the train. While I initially assumed these two would act as antagonists to the ladies of the bluffs, I actually found them quite compelling right away, even more so than Millie in some aspects. I was also really pleased with the role that they end up taking and the way their backstories are shared with us. With both the protagonists and the antagonists, I was so impressed that we consistently find out that no one is exactly what they seem, or that they are at least more nuanced then we may have initially imagined. My one complaint here is that I felt like certain characters went from being tirelessly antagonistic toward one another and then seem to abruptly become found family. It's not the most egregious shift I've even seen, but it did catch me off guard since everything else was so believably handled. 

The Willards were also great and offered a lot more depth to the story than I originally thought they would. There are other amazing side characters on both sides of the conflict as well, including a non-binary elf. I wasn't initially sure what to make of that character, but I thought that the author handled their physical descriptions and characterization in subtle ways that made them feel extremely real whereas sometimes these types of characters can feel a little ethereal or just too vague to relate to (in my opinion at least). I was also impressed with how deeply connected all these characters were to the world that they live in, making the setting feel like much more than just a backdrop.  

The setting takes most of it's queues from a classic western media. There are towns of different sizes connected by dusty roads or train tracks as well as vast swaths of desert land and wilderness in which natives take up residence. As I mentioned, I love how much the landscape played into the histories that each of the characters have. In real life, a place is never really just a place. They hold memories and have meaning and I definitely felt like that showed through in this story. There are absolutely some cool set pieces for the action to take in, but a burning house or a town under siege take on a much deeper meaning and you might find yourself hoping for its salvation or downfall it as much as any of the characters. While the landscape is pretty typical, I was rather surprised by how different of a feeling it has when fantastical beings are introduced. Massive beasts terrorize the skies while humans look down upon non-human races and have their own slurs for some of them. There are some aspects of the worldbuilding that I would have liked a little more definition around. For one, it's not always clear how similar or different this world is supposed to be from the historical wild west. Given that elves seem to be filling a role similar to Native Americans, I was left wondering if there were human natives as well or if this was even supposed to be America in the first place (it very well may not be). I'm not really one to harp on magic systems, though those that care deeply about them will probably want to know that the magic in this world is decidedly soft. The one thing I did want to know more about was why Millie acts as a sort of magical EMP, but I imagine that might be another story for another book. I'd also liked to have seen more fantastical elements baked into the landscape itself. In space westerns, there's usually futuristic technology intermingled with the dusty scenery and I would have loved to see crystal spires or other strange landmarks here to set the Scorched Bluffs and other locations apart from traditional western locales. 

There's nothing too crazy going on in terms of the book's formatting. It's all straightforward and well done in that it nails all the basics. I think the cover is pretty good too and I like the vibrant shades of orange that were used on it. I should say though that there were more than a few typographical errors I encountered along the way. They were all pretty minor with things like one word being misspelled so that it read as another ("ease" vs. "east" for instance) or sometimes just extra words thrown in that were odd or unnecessary (like "The Ryan" vs. just "Ryan"). It's possible that these weren't errors at all, but in that case, I would say that there were maybe some odd word choices for some of the lines then. In terms of volume, it was only just enough to distract me here and there with maybe somewhere in the vicinity of a dozen times I thought something might be off. Not enough to ruin the amazing story for me, but a noteworthy enough amount to take me out of the moment from time to time. For those reading this and thinking "Ugh, indie books bad, no editing" it really wasn't that big of a deal and it was clear that quite a lot of effort was put into polishing the prose. Frankly I often have at least one or two moments in most Trad Pub titles where I get caught up and think, "Was that right?"

NO LAND FOR HEROES offers a unique adventure that can be enjoyed by fans of both fantasies and westerns, but especially by readers who happen to like both. Strong plotting, vivid characterizations, and exciting action scenes make this a must read. 

(+) A thoughtfully paced and well constructed plot with tons of fun twists.
(+) Very believable child characters.
(+) There are some very cool and creative action sequences that are sprinkled in throughout. 
(+) Locations that hold meaning and significance
(+) The character work is fantastic with no one really being what they initially seem
(-) Enough typographical issues to be worth mentioning.
(-) Some aspects of the worldbuilding that could have been explained a little more.
(-) Certain characters go from having antagonistic relationships to being found family rather abruptly.


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