Dust and Sand by Sean P. Wallace
Warning: Mature Content, Language, and Themes.
Dust and Sand by Sean P. Wallace is a mix between a Western and Fantasy, with a hint of Horror and a few other genres thrown into the mix. Three cults have unleashed demons and other monstrosities into the world – otherwise known as the Dixie Problem – and the most concentrated place is a place called the Badlands, located in the South. The Solution, a mix between a military base and a laboratory, is in charge of seeing to the containment and eventual eradication of the cults. When a senators daughter, Penelope, is kidnapped by the cult of That Which Sins, Dust – once a man but now something more – is sent out to rescue her. To his dismay, he is forced to bring along the snobby and entitled Eleanor Naismith and they are soon joined by the Native American warrior, Shadows Fade, and her spirit wolf, Godly Claw. Their goal is to save Penelope before it is too late, but this kidnapping could all be just a small part of a larger plan which not even Dust is aware of.
The writing of this novel was fairly well done, and although there were a few typos, I didn’t find there to be anything overly troublesome when it came to reading. The novel is written in third person omniscient and tends to give you a view from multiple people. A lot of this was done well, but it is a hard point of view to pull off and at times things did get a bit muddled. Overall, I would have given the writing a solid 4, except for one little detail which I’ve discussed a little further down.
I found the entire concept of the novel to be very original and a clever mix of a lot of different genres. Yes it was the general good vs evil, but it made some good points that muddied the waters between the two and made it into a more realistic ‘shades of grey’ type situation (insert preferred 50 shades comment here). A lot of the originality had to do with the world building. Without giving too much away, there are three main cults (That Which Sins, Omnis, and another one that doesn’t play much part in the book so I forget the name) and these cults have unleashed demons and other monstrosities – otherwise known as the Dixie Problem. The novel takes place in the South during the 1800’s (I’d say 1860 maybe?) in a place called the Badlands which is the most concentrated area of the cults and the Dixie Problem. Wallace has done a good job of describing the setting and you get a good feel for the layout. There’s a lot more showing than telling, leaving the reader to draw conclusions which is a huge plus in fantasy, though I also feel there could have been more information. Furthermore, some information regarding how the magic system that I feel is important for the reader is explained at the end in a information dump that I don’t feel was necessary. The subtle references to it at the beginning were enough for me to draw this conclusion on my own, but it would have been nice for there to be a line closer to the beginning just verifying this since it is such a huge part of the world Wallace has created. I also wasn’t really able to pinpoint the exact time period of the book until some references halfway through and feel those could have been brought back to the beginning as well. Some aspects of the magic system weren’t quite clear and some I felt a little too convenient, but overall it was done well.
One of the things I really appreciated as part of the world building was that the Native American, Shadows Fade, called the cults and creatures different names than the non-Native Americans like Dust. I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels where two different cultures with different languages call everything by the same name, and that just doesn’t make sense to me. Another detail was how people viewed the magic system in the novel; those of religious belief seeing it as their strength of faith while others saw it as their strength of will. The difference in the names and views on the magic system made the novel much more realistic for me and it was the small details that I truly appreciated.
The plot was definitely interesting. There were some things I expected to happen that did, but also some surprises that actually shocked me. I will say that this book isn’t for everyone, especially those who are easily squicked out or disturbed by questionable fluids and a very open and uncensored take on sexuality (some references to human/non-human sex) or death of children. I will say that there wasn’t any major detail into the actual sex acts and I found that well done; I’m not unfamiliar with erotic novels, but this wasn’t one and, rightfully so, the concentration of the novel wasn’t explicit sex but rather the sins committed by That Which Sins cultists and how it influenced the plot and characters. The fact that it wasn’t skipped over but wasn’t made into an erotic novel was something else I liked about the writing of the novel. Moreover on the plot, I found the pacing was good, though some areas were slow at times, and the ending was another realistic point that concluded things up nicely but still left you with enough questions to want to read more.
Another thing I thought that was done fairly well was the characterization. Dust wasn’t just one note, but had some complexity which made him an interesting character. I will say that I felt this was done better in the second half of the novel than the first half, but that might be because a lot of information is given in the first half to make sure the reader felt that connection and the second half allowed for more time for the reader to explore the character. Shadows Fade and Naismith were Dust’s companions on this journey and while at times I felt I had a good understanding of their character, sometimes they felt a little two dimensional. However, most of the characterization was gleaned from how the characters acted and spoke, or how other characters felt about them, so it was done fairly well in my opinion. Surprisingly, two of my favourite characters were Penelope and Father Kilkenny who ran the church in the town of Crucifix (another place of importance in the novel). Their strength of character and conviction was very well done and despite how they weren’t necessarily the main characters, I felt I knew them as much as I knew Dust by the end.
The writing was good, the plot and characters were interesting, I haven’t yet read anything like this and the world was fairly well described, and yet I still found myself able to put down the book and walk away for long periods of time before deciding to read more of it. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t being pulled in when for all intents and purposes, this book should have been something to sit down with and read in a sitting. It wasn’t until halfway through that I realized why I wasn’t finding things as entertaining as I should have and it’s why the writing is a 3.5 instead of a 4; all of the chapters ended at a satisfying point. Now, that might sound like a good thing, but without some sort of cliffhanger or a sense of urgency, it makes it easy to put the book down. I didn’t feel like I needed to get to that next chapter to see what was going to happen next because the end of every chapter seemed like a good place to lay the book down and take a break. If I could give the author one solid piece of advice, it would be to go back and rework the layout so that the end of each chapter left the reader wanting more, leaving them with questions or with that sense of urgency during the moments right before a battle.
Overall, it was a good read and, while it did take a while to read due to above issue, I am glad I read it. The ending left me satisfied rather than disappointed and there were so many little details that I really appreciated the author paying attention too. In the end, I liked a lot more things than I disliked and would likely read a second novel should this become a series.
World Building 3.5/5
Entertainment Value: 3.5/5
Average Overall Rating: 3.7/5
If you found this review interesting, click here to buy the book for $2.81 CAD.