Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
Adventure and discovery await Yale student William Johnson when he accepts a dare to join Professor Othniel Marsh’s expedition to dig for dinosaur fossils in 1876. A crash course in photography later, Johnson is on a train headed west, until the paranoid Marsh leaves him behind in Cheyenne. Marsh’s rival, Edward Cope, is in town, and Johnson heads west with his group, to the Montana badlands. Their timing is bad, as Custer is just making his last stand at Little Bighorn. A wonderful find of huge dinosaur teeth highlights the summer fossil dig, but they have to get the fossils safely back East. As the rest of the group wait for a riverboat, Johnson and two others are ambushed with a wagon and half the fossils. Now the adventure really begins, as Johnson makes it to Deadwood with an arrow wound, ten crates of bones, and two dead bodies. Deadwood, a mining town, is both dangerous and expensive. He sets up a photography studio to earn enough money to travel south, and accidentally photographs a murder. No one believes his crates only contain bones, and he hires Wyatt Earp and his brother for protection. This entertaining historical adventure was discovered in the late author’s files, and was written before Jurassic Park. Enjoy!
Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman
Isobel is turning 16 and has to decide if she wants to work for the boss or leave the Territory, a reimagined American West full of magic. She has grown up in a saloon, where the Devil lets you gamble at the tables, but is willing to make a bargain if desired. And the Devil always keeps his word and honors his bargains. Isobel decides to stay, but instead is sent out on the road on horseback with mentor Gabriel to learn the Territory and to become the Devil’s Left Hand, a job that doesn’t come with a manual. Isobel and Gabriel encounter talking animals, a traveling magician, shamans, terrifying supernatural winds, and small towns completely empty of people. Young as she is, Isobel needs to take responsibility and find out what is going on in the Territory. A sequel, The Cold Eye, is being published in January, and I’m intrigued to find out what Isobel will encounter next.
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson
This is not the usual lengthy fantasy novel readers have come to expect from Brandon Sanderson. It’s much shorter, faster-paced, and has more humor. The Alloy of Law is as much a western as a fantasy novel. While part of his Mistborn series, it’s set 300 years later, with all new characters. Waxillium and Wayne fight crime in the Roughs, aided by their magical allomantic and feruchemical powers. Wayne can create a slow time bubble and heals well, while Wax can push on steel and make himself lighter or heavier, moving like a superhero. After a tragedy, Wax must move to the family mansion in the city of Elendel, become Lord Waxillium Ladrian, and take over the family business. He also needs to start a family, and meets with Lady Steris and her father, Lord Harms, to discuss a proposal for courtship and possible marriage. Their first date, where they are joined by Steris’ cousin Marasi, a student of criminal justice, is at a wedding banquet. Their waiter turns out to be Wayne, a master of disguise. When thieves break into the banquet hall, open fire, and kidnap a lady, Wax and Wayne are back in the crime-fighting business, aided by Marasi. Recent mysterious railcar thefts and kidnapping of ladies with allomantic or feruchemical powers are probably connected, and they suspect their former colleague Miles, who is practically impossible to kill, of turning villain.
A fun read, and a nice change of pace. I read the book, but the audio version is also getting great reviews.
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt
I don’t read a lot of westerns, but the funny title and striking cover caught my eye. Eli and Charlie Sisters are outlaws based in Oregon City in 1851, during the Gold Rush. Their boss, the mysterious Commodore, has a new job for the Sisters brothers; to kill gold prospector Herman Kermit Warm near San Francisco. The trip doesn’t begin well; Eli resents that Charlie has been put in charge, and Eli’s current horse, Tub, may not be up for such a long journey.
Charlie got into a lot of fights as a kid, and the larger Eli defended him. Now Charlie likes to drink, and kill people. Eli, however, is starting to listen to his conscience, although he feels obligated to help his brother. But really, Eli’s not very happy, and he might like to be a shopkeeper instead, and settle down with a nice woman. Eccentric characters and numerous adventures enliven their journey, along with comic interludes. The horse Tub continues his decline, but Eli doesn’t want to part with him. Herman Kermit Warm is not the thief the Sisters brothers expected, and his secret to successful gold prospecting comes with a high price. I’m not a bit surprised that film rights have already been optioned for this darkly funny, award-winning, offbeat Western. For an animated video about the book, visit the author’s web site.