Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill
2012, Young Adult (1870s)
Bloomsbury, $16.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 1599906848
Sometimes it seems like it's impossible to find a fresh idea in the stacks of YA novels out there. This latest book is a sort of redo of Cowboys vs. Aliens except with teen protagonists and zombies rather than aliens. The changes didn't improve the story any.
Jett Gallatin has seen the worst life has to offer. She has survived the Civil War, survived the looting of her home by the evil Yankees, and survived a dangerous hunt for her twin brother. He went missing during the war but due to the special bond between twins, she just knows he's not dead. She has been travelling the south, stopping in towns all over Texas in the hopes that someone somewhere will have some information about him. Thanks to the skills he taught her (passing her off as a boy had been a game for them), she has been able to pass as a cocky young gun slinger. When she enters the town of Alsop and heads to the local saloon, seeking employment and information, she experiences pretty much what she expected - a warm drink and a big lout who wants to challenge her. What she didn't expect was the zombie attack which killls the lout and has her riding hell bent for safety.
White Fox hadn't expected to find a strange steel wagon and an even stranger young lady on the banks of a river in Texas. A scout for the Buffalo Soldiers, he is using his outstanding tracking skills to find a colleague's missing kin. The soldier hasn't heard from them in awhile and sends White Fox to check on them. Thinking it a simple mission regarding perhaps a death in the family, White Fox has instead stumbled upon a deep mystery in which entire towns are disappearing. Following what few clues he has has led him to this remote spot. Is the young woman standing before him a part of the problem, an innocent bystander, or the cause of the whole situation?
Honoria Gibbons is ahead of her time. An inventor and scientist, she protects her father's fortune by searching out stories of the supernatural in which he has been invited to invest. So far she has debunked all such assertions. When White Fox tells her of the missing towns, she knows there is a logical explanation. When Jett rides into their comfy camp screaming of zombies, she knows she can solve that riddle with science as well. The next morning the three head back into Alsop - and what they find changes everyone's opinion of what is and isn't possible.
I would love to tell you more about how our heroes solve this mystery, but the book is neither long nor complex. The possibilities for what is happening are limited, as are the suspects who could be causing it. Indeed, the only real question is how and why. Plot wise, this read something like a Nancy Drew - lots of fun when you are a kid, not brilliant reading when an adult.
The characters are sweet, if not exactly deep. Jett is a loyal sister, strong person, and talented young lady. I admired how she used her ability to shoot and ride to build a disguise for herself that has stood the test of time. I admired less her endless complaining about Yankees. I have little empathy for the South in regards to the war, so that part of the book grew tedious for me. White Fox doesn't really get a chance to shine, but what we see of him is wonderful. He too is loyal, kind, and strong. Both he and Jett are what one pictures when thinking "cowboy"; they have the spirit of independence needed to survive in a rough and tumble environment. Honoria is the steam punk portion of the book. She builds contraptions - like a steam powered wagon - that can get the trio in and out of trouble. She is an analyst and scientist, and she's pretty - but completely unaware of her beauty, of course.
For what it is, this is a good book. These are two experienced, talented writers, and that shows in the prose. I enjoyed this book a lot more than some of my romance reviews. My main problem with it is that it is so very child like. While it is a bit creepy with the zombies and how they are made and killed, everything else about it screams junior high. I can't recommend it to an adult or teen audience. However, if you know a twelve year old looking for a somewhat scary read, this just may be the book they have been searching for.
-- Maggie Boyd
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