“As for the girl, she’d find her own way. The tough ones always do.”
Clayton Snyder is in peak form with his grimdark Weird Western, Cold West. The novel opens with former bounty hunter Wil Cutter burying his young wife, Ginny, following an unexpected illness. Left emotionally devastated and penniless with two young boys to feed, Cutter sees no choice but to return to his former life of violence.
It’s amazing how much Clayton Snyder packs into this two-hundred-page novel. Cold West is an emotional masterpiece, led by a protagonist who has lost the only salvation he has known. Snyder’s writing cuts like a knife and is a perfect match for this gut-wrenching story:
“Give me a gun and I’ll hurt whoever you point me at. Hand me a bottle, and I’ll try to drown in it. Anything to be away from those memories, the things you can’t talk about.”
Wil Cutter is a deeply flawed main character, haunted by a past he can’t seem to escape. The plot serves as a reflection of Wil’s chaotic mental state and, as such, is rather unstructured, jumping abruptly between scenes. Wil’s shifting morality is accompanied by several shockingly brutal action sequences that will appeal to even the hardest of grimdark fans. These are interspersed with Wil’s feverish dreams reminiscing about Ginny, the one person who accepted him for who he was, forgave his sins, and set him on a path toward redemption.
Cold West is a book about finding purpose and then suddenly losing it. The pages of Cold West practically bleed with remorse and sorrow. The story is, appropriately, set in a bleak wasteland. Snyder employs a minimalistic approach to worldbuilding and magic, which works well in the context of the story.
Snyder’s trademark sense of humor is still present: the astute reader will note references to fellow grimdark indie authors Michael R. Fletcher and Sarah Chorn, as well as a subtle reference to Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Mark Lawrence’s influence is evident throughout Cold West. Snyder’s novel serves as a cutting first-person psychological study that combines the raw brutality of Prince of Thorns with the sorrowful introspection of King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns. Of course, there are also parallels with Lawrence’s own Weird Western, Gunlaw.
Cold West packs a huge emotional punch. This action-packed tragedy should be considered essential reading for grimdark fans.