I’ve been reviewing Dean F. Wilson’s books for a while now – Dean provides them for me to read, and I’m more than happy to accept, because at this point, I’ve come to trust that I’m going to get a great read out of him – engaging and exciting action, solid character work, and great storytelling. That started with The Great Iron War series, continued for me with his high fantasy trilogy The Children of Telm, but for my money, Wilson’s current series, Coilhunter Chronicles, has been his most satisfying, enjoyable, and just plain great series to date.
Essentially a steampunk Western about a bounty hunter (the titular Coilhunter, whose given name is Nox) tracking down criminals, the Coilhunter Chronicles works because it’s all story. Wilson builds rich worlds, and his density of history in them – prophecies and ancient feuds in The Children of Telm, war and grudges in The Great Iron War – can sometimes get overwhelming, forcing the characters to figure out their own place in the world before they can even act. But by creating a character who knows himself so deeply, and who’s opted out of “civilized” society, Wilson has allowed himself to do pure storytelling. From hunting down killers to forays into cybernetic battlefields, this series feels like pure Western pulp with sci-fi trappings, and I’m eating it up.
What’s more, as Wilson gets further into the series, it only gets better. Dustrunner, the third entry in the series, has a simple hook: a village has been slaughtered, and the Coilhunter has been framed. What results from there is all-out war, as every bounty hunter in the Wild North comes after him in the hopes of collecting one of the biggest bounties of all time – well, that and the chance to settle a lot of old scores. And if that’s not enough, the tribes are also uniting against the man who seems to have slaughtered some of their own so coldly and brutally.
Simple hook, sure, but what it leads to is pure action, as Nox fights his way against incredible odds, does his best to investigate the case while keeping himself alive, and struggles to convince even a few people that this is a case of mistaken identity. There’s a slight sense of confusion when we get to the ending – without getting into spoilers, this is less a case where we’re re-meeting some old nemesis of Nox’s, and more that Wilson has created some new character we’ve never heard of to be the Big Bad. But that doesn’t really end up mattering that much; what matters is whether the story works, and does it ever. The action, as always, is crackling, full of devices, feints, gunfights, and clear writing that brings everything to instantly comprehensible and exciting life. And, as ever with this series, there’s Wilson’s great drawling dialect and prose, bringing his landscape to life every bit as well as his characterization.
Dustrunner is the best book of the three Coilhunter books to date, and when you consider that every single entry in this story has been great, that’s no small thing. Jump in here or in any of them – it doesn’t matter. Jump in and have fun with it – I certainly did, and I’ll be glad to do it again when book #4 comes out.