I get a lot of requests to review books by various authors, but Dean F. Wilson is one of those that I’m most excited to hear from – when I get a Wilson book, I know I’m going to get solid writing, rich worldbuilding, interesting characters, and just a crackling good story. And that all goes doubly for Wilson’s recent Coilhunter Chronicles series, which takes the steampunk trappings of his Great Iron War series and brings them into the Western genre, with absolutely fantastic results. And, as I’d hoped, Rustkiller (the second book in this series, after introducing the character in The Great Iron War and giving him his own book with Coilhunter) is great – even better than the first, and a just plain great read on every level.
Mind you, it helps that the Coilhunter Chronicles have such a great protagonist – a bounty hunter named Nox, known as the titular “Coilhunter” (“coils” being the currency of Wilson’s post-apocalyptic world). The Coilhunter is a ruthless, take-no-prisoners sort of guy – think a combination of Batman and John Wick, and you might end up with the character Wilson’s created, complete with complex motivations and a yearning for justice that takes its form in lethal bullets and captures.
In other words, you’ve already got a great antihero. And you’ve already got a great world – the unsettled Western frontiers of a war-torn landscape, a place where people go because they’re opting out of a violent world torn apart by war and strife. All you need is a good story, and as usual, Wilson delivers. The plotting here starts out simple enough, with the Coilhunter encountering a young pair of siblings on their own, and trying to help them. Things spiral out from there, and Wilson turns his focus to the Clockwork Commune, a sort of junkyard populated by wound-up, self-running machines which rip apart anything that comes into their realm, all in the hopes of finding some machinery for their self-replicating world.
The result is a ton of fun; Wilson uses his short chapter lengths perfectly, constantly giving you the need to read “just one more” at the end of every one, pulling you along in a cavalcade of tension, suspense, and great action. As usual, the writing is fantastic, evoking that Western drawl despite all of its steampunk and science-fiction trappings, but best of all is the way that Wilson brings his characters to life, as ever. That goes most for Nox, whose fatalistic worldview is tempered by his desire to help those in need, but it’s equally valid in the case of the young siblings, whose motivations, drives, and needs don’t feel like stock “children in peril,” but something more interesting, all the way up to a brutal choice they’re forced to make.
These books, more than anything else, are fun – they’re exciting, inventive, well-written, and just plain great. They’re pulpy but satisfying, action-driven but character-rich, and enjoyable enough that you’ll rocket through them. And they’re all standalone stories, giving you a great sample of Wilson’s work in the hopes you’ll come back for more. And you most definitely should.