Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove: Narrated by James Anderson Foster

The Magnificent Nine confirms the placement of these Firefly novels–or at least this particular installment–as falling between Objects In Space and the Serenity motion picture. The previous book hadn’t made any specific mention of the events in that episode and thus could have fallen before or after that final episode of the tragically short-lived series.
The crew of Serenity is floating adrift, between jobs and looking for work to keep themselves afloat when a message arrives from an old friend of Jayne’s. There’s trouble on the distant, dry–almost desert–world of Thetis. Jayne’s former lover, Temperance, is desperate to find help for her small village. A cruel, savage bandit going by the name of Elias Vandal threatens the survival of all residents of Thetis who won’t bow to his reign or join his cultish band of raiders and criminals.
Though there’s no money in the job, it’s the right thing to do, and the crew of Serenity naturally makes their way to Thetis. This group of nine mismatched compatriots is hardly the collection of soldiers or heroes Temperance was expecting, but they might be precisely the heroes the planet needs.
While the previous installment, Big Damn Heroes, provided us with a fair bit of additional backstory for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, this book supplements what we know of Jayne Cobb before his time with the crew of Serenity.
It’s a satisfying story that could have made for a pretty fantastic episode or two of the series.
The narration from James Anderson Foster is just as good as it was for the previous book–and hopefully will be for the remaining handful of Firefly supplemental novels.

A Baptism for the Dead by Charles R. Bernard

Charles R. Bernard has crafted an immersive piece of historical fiction with A Baptism for the Dead. Spanning the decades between the 1840s and the 1870s, we experience snapshots of the expansive fields of unsettled Nebraska on the approach to the South Pass through the Continental Divide in what would become Wyoming, raging blizzards in Northern Michigan, and the early years of Salt Lake City…and those snapshots feel three dimensional.
Throughout the story, we occasionally follow Left Hand, an indigenous woman who has the unfortunate path in life of hunting monsters. The introduction to her character is a fascinating glimpse of a forest haunted by ghosts and a cavern of sickness and monstrous residents.
The bulk of the story begins as we witness Leonidas Pyburn and his two sons–following the fateful path previously taken by the Donner-Reed Party–headed West to embrace the call of Manifest Destiny in the form of the emerging gold rush in California. Encountering a frantic, haunted sexton along the way, their own journey takes a turn not altogether better than that experienced by the previously mentioned Donner Party.
The survivors of that grisly, horrific encounter go drastically separate directions, both in life and in a cartographic sense. While Leonidas continues West to seek fortune and power, his son determines that his fate awaits him to the North, with the Mormons who passed through the region previously.
As secrets and magic bring the father and son together again, two decades later, we learn that there are more than carrion-eating ghouls to be afraid of in this vision of the American West.
Bernard succeeds in blending occultism, conventional spirituality, social commentary, history, and family drama into a captivating novel that contains more than enough gore and Western aesthetic to appeal to fans of the Splatter Westerns being published by Death’s Head Press.

The Night Silver River Run Red by Christine Morgan

My maternal grandfather was a big fan of Louis L’Amour and he had a massive assortment of paperback westerns when I was growing up. I developed a deep appreciation for those stories and others, as well as western movies and television as a whole.
The Night Silver River Run Red is absolutely not one of those westerns. Christine Morgan nails the language, the descriptions, and the tone of authentic western authors…but that is where the similarities end.
It starts off like a tale that could have been a Halloween-themed Laura Ingalls Wilder story from her Little House series. Kids in a rapidly depopulating town sneak out together at night to try and catch a glimpse of carnival attractions their puritanical parents oppose. The only element that wouldn’t fit is the presence of a religious cult a short distance outside of town, but I didn’t say it was a perfect comparison.
It doesn’t feel like one of those stories for long anyhow. The violence erupts and any thought that this could have been a western story you might have read while growing up is dispelled quite rapidly and that sense of familiarity never returns…plus, there is a uniquely psychotic rapist named Horsecock in the book, so there’s that.
I can only hope the other Splatter Westerns published by Death’s Head Press are this good…because Christine Morgan expertly weaves her own brand of extreme horror and visceral violence into an almost perfect replica of the pulp westerns a lot of us know quite well.
This is the fourth of the books, but it had to be the first I read, just because of this particular author.

If you are a fan of both horror and western literature, I highly recommend checking out the whole series of Splatter Westerns released by Death’s Head Press. There are currently eight installments to fulfill your filthiest, most bloodthirsty desires.