Make Me No Grave by Hayley Stone
I discovered this book through other author contacts sharing Hayley Stone’s posts on twitter and I immediately thought it would be right up my alley. I’ve heard some others in the book industry suggest that westerns, as a genre, are dead but I don’t think that’s true. There are a bunch of great, modern works that follow the western genre, that people have really enjoyed. Example? Logan. There’s also Pretty Deadly, Dark Valley, and a really weird one, Bad Batch. The western isn’t dead, it’s just branching out. I, for one, think weird westerns are where it’s at.
Make Me No Grave is told from the point of view of a US Marshal, Apostle Richardson, on the hunt for a deadly female outlaw, Almena Guillory, the Grizzly Queen. When he finds her, he quickly discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Not only is she smart and dangerous, but a lynch mob quickly forms to take care of her before the law can. This is just the tip of the iceberg of obstacles Apostle must face while trying to bring the Grizzly Queen to justice, the least of which is not her strange and rather frightening flesh magic abilities.
Fantasy Meets Historical Fiction
Set in the days after the Civil War, Make Me No Grave presents the reader with a wild west tinged with magic. Not only does Almena have some interesting powers, but we quickly discover that not only are witches of various types real, but they’re hidden among the normal folk, taking part in historical events like the underground railroad.
What I really appreciated about this is that the story isn’t overly saturated with magic. Some books trying to pull this off have a way of chucking witches and magicians at the reader’s head until they are no longer rare or even interesting, but magic, while playing an important part in the plot, is not everywhere. I think there are only three people altogether who have any magic at all and their powers don’t appear to be overly broad or world-breaking.
The story is far more about the characters and their effort to overcome personal and external obstacles than it is about magical systems or a secret world history (though that definitely plays a huge part).
It’s About the People
Depth of character is wonderful in this book. I really liked both Apostle and Almena, so slowly digging into their mysterious pasts was almost as interesting as the main plot and the various gunfights and throw downs you’d expect from the genre. Almena is particularly interesting. She has a sullied, tarnished past, full of secrets, some sad, some dark, all of them intriguing.
Watching these two banter and play off of each other, while forming a relationship that gets deeper and deeper was half the fun of reading this book. It’s romantic, but it’s not silly or overly gooey, which I totally appreciated.
I really liked reading this. I’ve always been a fan of westerns, but they are so much better with a twist. This is probably why I prefer Seven Samurai to The Magnificent Seven, or why I like The Quick and the Dead more than your run of the mill spaghetti western.
Make Me No Grave hits all the targets for me. It visits the good western tropes like gun slinging, train robberies, desperate stand offs… the list goes on. But it keeps it all interesting with the unique magical flavor and best of all, uses good character development as a base of the story, so it never gets thin or boring.
I highly recommend this book, even if you’ve never read a weird western before. Particularly if you’ve never read a weird western before. Even fans of classic westerns might enjoy this. If you like fun historical fiction, you’ll also probably really like this.
As of this article, Hayley Stone is working on the sequel. I am definitely looking forward to its release.
Bechdel Test: Pass