Not many are familiar with the Weird West genre, and for good reason. The popularity of Westerns in modern mass media fluctuates wildly from year to year. And usually, when you think of Westerns, you most likely think of cowboys and conflict with Native American peoples. Weird West takes the tropes of the Western, but adds in elements of fantasy: such as orcs, elves, and demonic possession.
Enter A Demon in the Desert by Ashe Armstrong.
The town of Greenreach Bluffs is under siege by something straight from a nightmare. Grimluk, an orc demon-hunter, takes on the case. But what has brought this plague of evil—of demonic activity—upon Greenreach Bluffs? The answer is not what you’d expect.
A Demon in the Desert seems to me to be, first and foremost, a love letter to the Weird West genre and classic pulps from the ’60s. It has the fast-paced action that pulp readers crave, with the flavor and accessibility of something that acts as an introduction to Weird West. And for those looking for somewhere to start with this genre, this book is a must.
As a protagonist, Grimluk remains the relatable outsider, which is a difficult line to walk—especially when Greenreach Bluffs seems absolutely bent on sabotaging, if not outright refusing, his help. For the brief snapshot into Greenreach Bluffs we get in this book, the secondary characters are well established and seem to have authentic lives of their own, beyond the scope of the protagonist. And, I mean, what isn’t there to like about a gun-slinging demon-hunter?
The story is also the precise length that it needs to be, which is praise I rarely dole out these days. There is obviously room for—and existence of—a sequel, but it is not something that is pushed. If you are looking for a light, fast, engaging read, I highly recommend A Demon in the Desert.
My primary criticisms are more those of personal preference than anything. I would have loved to have seen more put into the demon’s magic, beyond the realm of nightmares. I am also honestly eager to see if Armstrong uses more traditional Western tropes and devices as the series develops.
Overall, I would give this book a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. It acts as a great entry point to West West, and what to expect from the genre. I’m honestly looking forward to seeing what the rest of the series will bring us.
Note: I purchased this book independently.