Today’s review is for His Ragged Company: A Testimony of Elias Faust by Rance D. Denton. Before we get into it today I have a few disclosures and disclaimers.
Disclosure 1, this is an ARC review. As such, you may experience slight differences in the final product versus what I have in front of me.
Disclosure 2, this is an ARC review. I was sent this book early for free for the purposes of review. This does not change my opinion of the book. As always, my opinions are my own.
Disclouser 3, I consider Rance to be something of a friend. He recently co-hosted my Release Day Livestream for Courting the Dragon. This also does not change my opinion of the book.
Finally, I have a disclaimer. This is not my usual genre. When I read a western, it’s usually of the romantic variety. I think I’ve seen one spaghetti western movie in my lifetime and I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch Tombstone.
Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s get into the review.
About the Author
Honestly, you’re better off just reading the bio in the back of the book. Anyway, here’s my hacked together summary: Rance D. Denton lives in Maryland with his wife and their furbabies. When he’s not writing, he can be found doing all sorts of other interesting things, such as martial arts and historical re-enactment. You can frequently find him on Twitter and co-hosting The Quarantine Book Club podcast.
About the Book
I think the best way to describe the genre of His Ragged Company is as a Western with a big smack of Fantasy in the middle. According to Kobo, the book is approximately 119K long, which makes it a bit of a chonk. Be ready to commit some time if you pick this baby up. On release day it will be available in paperback from Amazon and eBook from Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, as well as other associated retailers. It is written in English and I am not aware of any plans for translation on audio adaptation (although I think Rance could totally knock that out of the park himself if so inclined).
I feel like the cover does a pretty good job of conveying the mix of genres at play in the book. It depicts a Sandshade, a fantasy creature that plays a prominent role in the story, as well as what I assume to be Elias Faust fleeing on horseback. The typography is fun, almost playful, and leans in to that western-y genre vibe. I haven’t seen the full paperback wrap, so I can’t comment on that. I give the eBook cover 5 teaspoons.
There were no major formatting issues in the ePub that I was given. It all worked just fine in my Apple iBooks. Since I haven’t see the paperback layout I won’t be able to speak to that. I will have to include this one in my big ARC follow-up post sometime this fall.
For now, I give design a tentative 5 teaspoons.
You can read the full blurb here but I’m going to do my best to sum up the premise. Elias Faust is a town Marshall for a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Texas. His usual solution for problems tend to involve a lot of bullets, which gets him in to trouble when he kills the wrong man and pisses off a wizard, thereby getting himself drawn into supernatural battle for a source of power that lies beneath the town’s feet. To protect the people of Blackpeak, Elias must make some deals with some devils.
There’s some pretty classic story elements at play here, but they’re blended in a way that piqued my interest almost immediately.
5 teaspoons for premise.
Denton provides us with quite a cast. The main character of course is the town Marshall, Elias Faust who is the narrator of the story. He’s cynical, stubborn, and has his own sense of justice, which he metes out as he sees fit in the backwards little town of Blackpeak. The interesting thing about Faust is that he is not exactly what you would imagine for a traditional “hero.” He’s rough, foul-mouthed, and spends a very large chunk of the book getting his butt kicked.
Along for much of the butt-kicking is the Marshall’s deputy, Grady Cicero, who doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean record with the law, either.
Much of the rest of the cast are also painted in shades of moral gray. Miss Garland, who runs a fight pit. Eliza Fulton, who is pushed beyond the limits a mother should have to endure. Just to name a few. In truth, there is almost no one in Blackpeak that could honestly claim to be a “good guy.” Most of them are just “good enough” trying to survive out in the middle of nothing while the rest are just oppontunists and thieves, such as the “mayor” Kallum.
Magnate Gregdon is the main villain for the book, although Faust certainly deals with a variety of antagonists throughout the course of the tale. Through it all, Gregdon is pulling the strings, corralling Faust towards a doom of his design. The Magnate is a surprisingly multifaceted character, with layers of motivations that are peeled back for the reader as Faust discovers them.
5 teaspoons for characters.
Blackpeak felt like a real little town. It was just populated enough with named characters to feel lived in. I could imagine the dust and the heat and the misery punctuated by moments of laughter and blood. The worldbuilding on the western side of the book was fantastic.
I feel like there’s a lot of worldbuilding for the fantasy side of the book that went on behind the scenes that never made it onto the page. I really want to know more about the Well and the Heralds and these fantastical elements that the book introduces. Denton has given us a taste of the whiskey; I want the rest of the bottle.
5 teaspoons for worldbuilding.
This book took me for a ride. There were a few lulls in the action early on that gave me a chance to breath but once it hit the midpoint it was like being on a speeding train with no exits. Faust went from the frying pan into the fire and then was rolled in the coals for good measure. It kept me guessing, which I really appreciate.
4 teaspoons for plot.
In some ways the vibe of the book reminded me a bit of The Gunslinger. Only in vibe though. Denton’s writing is very different. It’s course, almost choppy at times in a good way, in a way that fits the narration of Elias Faust as a character. And yet, at times it is almost poetic. I will say, if you can’t stand swearing or honest assessments of the human condition, this is probably not going to be the book for you.
There are a few places where the prose is what I would call intentionally confusing. I could see this being a turn-off for some readers but I would strongly encourage pushing through those sections. It’s a clear stylistic choice that reflects the narrator’s state of mind and being in those moments. It wasn’t my favorite thing but I understand the choice.
I largely felt like the action scenes were well-written. There is some amount of descriptive gore, although to compare to The Dark Tower books again, I don’t think I’ll be having any nightmares from this one.
I give the writing 4 teaspoons.
I really enjoyed His Ragged Company. I’ve been reading so much fantasy romance that it really provided a nice change of pace for me, personally. It was also just a wild, wild ride in the wild, wild west. I really loved the overall voice of protagonist.
There are some things that I would consider loose threads. There are sort of these interludes where Faust is being questioned by someone–something–hence the subtitle “A Testimony of Elias Faust.” I don’t feel like these interludes were really explained, exactly. I’m hoping for a sequel that will clear up some of the hanging mysteries and expand on the worldbuilding that was begun in this volume.
All in all, I give the book 4.5 teaspoons, which I will be rounding up on sites that require whole star ratings.