Reviews In The Machine : The Company Of The Dead, by Anthony Watson
Yesterday, we posted our interview with Anthony Watson, discussing his work in general as well as his novella, The Company Of The Dead. I was thrilled to hear from him that not only would there be a second volume to Dark Frontiers but that we would be seeing more from Nate and Wolf. As I reached the end of the story, my thoughts were likely what most authors hope to hear from their readers, namely, “Wait, I want more!”
I think one of the stronger aspects of the book is how effectively Watson manages to set up so much in so little time. I love Westerns that drive home the desolate landscape they are taking place on. I also felt comfortable with Nate as a character almost from the start and one of my favorite parts is actually early on when he is trapped out in the open during a sandstorm.
Foul weather is something we hardly take note of anymore but I loved the foreshadowing it lent this tale. It was impossible to not see the massive dark presence sweeping over him, off to partake in some unknown evil. I also appreciated the historical experience of a life where something as “simple” as a storm has the potential to end your life.
After stumbling across the scene of an incredible act of violence, Nate ends up in the company of Wolf, a traveling shaman who is on a quest of his own. The story takes off from here and doesn’t look back.
The atmosphere and the buildup of tension in this story is fantastic as you really get the sense that Nate and Wolf are about to face off against a powerful presence. There is also just the perfect level of graphic description to bring home the violence and danger they are inherently threatened with. I think that in order to be successful in the western genre, you really have to be able to communicate the constant hostility of the environment and I think Watson does this well.
I’m surprised that more western stories don’t veer in the direction of the supernatural as it seems like an intuitive jump to make. And in this case, it works great as Nate is slowly introdoced to a darkness under the surface in levels of existence that we can’t be aware of.
Both Wolf and Nate are great characters. They come off somewhat casually as they are introduced but as the story moves on, you see how strong and courageous they both are, warriors in their own right. And they are put to the test in this story in ways many others would have quickly turned away from. I also like that there are hints of rough backstories for both of them that I think would open doors for future stories, should the scribe choose to go in that direction.
It isn’t easy to write good and authentic fiction set during a historical period of time. It isn’t simply a matter of replacing cars with horses and have them wear hats. In the interviews for this book, both authors have referred to the importance that research plays in this genre and I think Watson has really done his work here. I took note as well of how he tries to make sure he hits a proper balance of research to story. While I refer to this as the Dan Brown effect, I also see authors who make too much of an effort to shoehorn their background work into the story and some scenes start to feel like sitting through a lecture at University. With Company Of The Dead, Watson perfectly threads the needle, using his research in ways to make the story feel authentic, as opposed to show off how much he knows about the time period.
In all, this was a fantastic novella. It was an incredibly fun book that I read several times for the purposes of doing these reviews. I am eagerly looking forward to volume two of Dark Frontiers as well as future material from both of these authors, whether it be of their own or in future collaborations.