A couple of weeks earlier, I heard about a really intriguing genre called the “Weird West” genre (eg: the western genre, but with supernatural, horror, sci-fi etc.. elements).
So, after looking around online, I found a couple of second-hand books. But, since one of them didn’t interest me as much as I’d initially expected, I ended up reading the other one – Melissa Marr’s 2013 novel “The Arrivals” – instead.
So, let’s take a look at “The Arrivals”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a gunfight in a monastery in the middle of a bizarre wasteland in an alternate dimension. One of the possessed monks has just shot a gunslinger called Mary and her friends (Jack, Kitty, Edgar and Francis) want revenge. After a battle, the monk is killed and the gang carry Mary’s body back into the surrounding wasteland. In the wasteland, dead people sometimes return to life after six days. Sometimes they don’t.
When they don’t, a person from our world who has taken a life appears in the wasteland to replace them. When a new arrival appears, no-one can be certain of their loyalties. They could side with Jack and his band of honest outlaws or they could be seduced by a powerful, cruel man called Ajani who wants to turn the wasteland into part of the British Empire…..
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it seemed a little bit random at first, it quickly became a lot more atmospheric and compelling than I had expected 🙂 This is an interesting moderately-paced thriller novel that is filled with intriguing characters and a fairly atmospheric and well-developed fictional world too.
Seriously, I love how the fantastical elements of this story follow a clear set of rules but are also kept mysterious enough to be intriguing. Likewise, this is also one of the most original fantasy novels that I’ve read recently.
Everything from the mysterious mechanics of life and death amongst the arrivals, to the bizarre etiquette of the novel’s vampire-like creatures, to the relatively few magic-based scenes to the array of mysterious creatures (eg: wingless dragons called Lindwurms, plagues of giant insects etc..) are really interesting. Not to mention that the weirdness and originality of these elements really helps to make the reader feel like they’ve been plonked into a mysterious alternate world.
Although this novel is a thriller novel, don’t expect it to be a wall-to-wall action-fest. Although there are several well-placed fight scenes, the focus is more on character-based drama, the atmosphere of the wasteland and the politics of it. Since these three things are handled really well, the story still remains really compelling – even if it is very slightly less of an action-thriller novel than the dramatic opening scene (which reminded me of the computer game “Blood“, which is never a bad thing 🙂 ) might lead you to expect.
Thematically, this novel is pretty interesting too. It is a story about loyalty, friendship and family as well as being a novel about how power corrupts. The more democratic and egalitarian band of outlaws is contrasted well with Ajani’s cruel hierarchy and his imperial ambitions. Although this element of the story isn’t explored quite as much as I would have liked, it still helps to add some depth to the story. Likewise, this is also a story about moral ambiguity, bereavement, love and redemption too.
Still, the best parts of this story are probably the characters and the atmosphere. This novel has the kind of desolate, gritty wild west atmosphere that you would expect and this really helps to immerse the reader in the story 🙂 Likewise, although this is one of those stories where the main characters spend more time arguing with each other than fighting the bad guys, the main characters are a really intriguing bunch of people from different periods of history who all have interesting personalities, complicated backstories and dramatic flaws.
In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is fairly good. It is written in a fairly informal, but descriptive, style that really helps the story to flow well in addition to being a really good fit with the gruff, harsh world of the wasteland too 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At a wonderfully efficient 274 pages in length, this novel never feels too long. Likewise, although this story is a bit more moderately-paced than I’d expected, the atmosphere, setting, characters and plot really help to keep it compelling 🙂
All in all, this novel is a really interesting version of the western genre. It’s an atmospheric, dramatic and compelling tale that is set in an intriguingly mysterious world and populated by some rather interesting characters (even if they do spend quite a lot of time arguing with each other).
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.