Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s new cross-genre novel is DEAD RECKONING. It’s a zombie steampunk Western set in 1867 that features a trio of intriguing characters, Jett Gallatin (a seventeen-year-old “male” gunslinger), Honoria Gibbons (called “Gibbons” — she’s an inventor, a genius, and is slightly older than Jett), and White Fox (male, about the same age as the other two, raised from birth with the Sac and Fox tribe but most likely 100% Anglo by blood; he’s a scout). All three are intelligent and spirited misfits, which gives them a quick way to bond while keeping the plotline from getting complacent.
DEAD RECKONING opens with Jett stopping off at a saloon in what seems like the middle of nowhere (but is actually west Texas). She’s looking for information about her brother, Phillip, who enlisted in the Confederate Army years ago and hasn’t been seen since. But instead of finding anything out about her brother, she ends up running for her life after zombies — yes, zombies! — attack.
Jett’s a skeptic, so this attack deeply unsettles her worldview. But more unsettling things are on the way once she meets up with Gibbons and Fox, as these two know from the start that Jett is female (a closely-guarded secret) due to Jett needing immediate medical attention. More to the point, due to Gibbons’ skill as an inventor (she has a steam coach she calls an “Auto-Tachypode” that usually cruises at a steady 10 mph), Jett realizes she’s not the only non-traditional female out there.
Gibbons, being if anything even more skeptical than Jett, is leery of the zombie explanation, which is why all three youngsters end up going back to the little hole-in-the-wall town Jett started in to look for clues. Once there, Gibbons attempts several experiments, which lead her to believe that Jett was, indeed, telling the truth. (Which is lucky for us, or there’d be no story.)
Worse yet, Gibbons and the others quickly realize there’s a corrupt “Man of God” involved, a man known as “Brother Shepherd.” Shepherd has a way to “bring the dead back to life,” but it’s not a resurrection — instead, he’s actually bringing these people back as undead zombies. Due to this seemingly miraculous power, a cult of rather gullible people have formed around Shepherd (many of them women); the few men “in the know” are with Shepherd because Shepherd pays very, very well. (Which admittedly isn’t hard to do if you’re able to loot towns with impunity due to a semi-controlled horde of zombies.)
When Jett is captured while attempting to gain information from the enemy, Gibbons and Fox quickly decide to rescue her. But will the zombies manage to get to Jett first, especially as Shepherd does seem to have some sort of weird control over them? And even if the zombies don’t get to Jett right off, will Gibbons figure out how to undo whatever it is Shepherd’s done, as that’s the only long-term way to save Jett or anyone else?
All of this action-adventure is stimulating, interesting, and very fun to read. But perhaps the best reason to read DEAD RECKONING is how faithful Lackey and Edghill are to the Western milieu, yet how easily they manage to fit both steampunk and zombies into the story without missing a beat.
Bottom line? DEAD RECKONING is an excellent stand-alone, action-adventure novel. So if you like Westerns, zombies, steampunk, or better yet, all three, go grab a copy of DEAD RECKONING once it becomes available on June 5, 2012. You’ll be glad you did.
— reviewed by Barb