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Kingston is a small isolated town; used to Strangers, they view them with suspicion. On a particular day, Hook arrives, causing nothing but trouble. The only other Stranger is unable or unwilling to get involved and it takes the intervention of a single young man to eject Hook from the town, but not until he has transformed the boy into a Stranger called Justice. Now Justice hunts the land for Hook, seeking answers. But these two creatures labour under the pretence of free will as their every action is being controlled by greater beings, one of which has a penchant for dressing as a jester...
Kingston to Cable by Gary Greenwood is, by the authors own admission, an odd book, which started life as a collection of short stories. Although they are set in the same environment, they were written over a number of years and this has led to perspective changes from one story to another. I expected this to be more disconcerting than it ended up being, the overall result has a tapestry feel to it with the individual stories coming together to create a satisfying whole.
Greenwood has recreated a fantasy version of the American west with the added inclusion of powerful, but enigmatic, beings which may be gods. This tale of guns, gods and monsters opens, appropriately, with the arrival of a Stranger. The Strangers are nomadic creatures, who may or may not be gods; they travel between settlements, bringing chaos or the hope of order.
This form of crossover is a relatively small sub-genre, though many will have seen Cowboys & Aliens (2011), or read the successful Dark Tower series of books, by Stephen King - which is similar, in that it crosses the western genre with others. That is not to say that Kingston is a rip off of The Dark Tower because of its setting any more than believing that all science fiction stories are the same as they share common tropes. Not being a fan of the core cowboy genre, I had not expected to enjoy the book as much as I did. Few will have not seen a western at some point in their lives and the use of Americanisms, like Ma and Pa do not feel intrusive or forced, nor do they force the reader’s attention out and away from the story.
Written as separate pieces, the story takes a little time to settle its focus on its main narrative, but when it does it provides a very satisfying read. I have never been a great fan of westerns, but this is immaterial when reading the book, as Greenwood keeps his descriptions to a bare minimum, stopping the setting getting in the way of the story. This also has a downside as the information about the world is limited, which is a shame as he alludes to a lot of things that would have been good to know more about. I wanted to know more about the kingdoms, the lost civilisations and how the society had come about. With none of the history, the isolation of the story feels total.
In his preface Greenwood writes that he was asked to finish the tales with a conclusion and although it has the same scarcity of description as the rest of the book, the book comes to a satisfying ending.
Even if you don’t like the idea of westerns, I’d still recommend the book as one to pick up.