Ghostwalkers (Deadlands #1) by Jonathan Maberry (2015) : Tor Books (9780765375261)
Full-disclosure: My wife and I are currently playing a Deadlands campaign together. It’s great game with an interesting poker card-based mechanic and a setting bubbling over with the possibility of great stories. So when I saw that Jonathan Maberry (Dead of Night, Rot & Ruin, King of Plagues) had written a novel based in that world, I was there faster than a silver bullet.
Grey Torrance is a gunman who is constantly running from the literal ghosts of his past. Putting his nose where it doesn’t belong embroils him in the machinations of a robber baron with dreams of conquest who is sucking the town of Paradise Falls dry of resources and people. With the guidance of Thomas Looks Away, a Sioux scientist, and the drive of the beautiful and fiery rancher Jenny Pearl, Grey seeks redemption in the impossible defense of the town.
Ghostwalkers is the first in a trio of tie-in novels set in the Deadlands universe. And it is a great opener. Maberry does an excellent job of painting the setting and creates a whiz-bang plot for the characters to play in. There are strange ghost-rock powered gizmos, plenty of zombies, Harrowed gunslingers, mad scientists, fell creatures from deep beneath the earth, and even undead dinosaurs thrown into the mix. This is a tale of high adventure and Maberry delivers.
The writing is punchy and the dialog is fun. Each chapter ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, throwing you into the next step along the way. It’s just good, pulpy writing and keeps you interested, even during the expository bits. The characters are a bit one-dimensional, but still engaging. There is just so much going on that there isn’t much time for deep character development–and, really, this plot-driven pulp. Deep character study isn’t really necessary. The Sioux character of Looks Away is slightly problematic. While Maberry doesn’t dip into Native American cliche’s with the character, the scientist’s British mannerisms are a bit forced–especially as it is established that he didn’t go to England until he was 20 years old.
Ghostwalkers is a ripping yarn, a wild roller-coaster ride of a novel, and a great introduction to the weird western world of Deadlands.