I was intrigued when I saw the book cover for Dead Reckoning by bestselling authors Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. It looked like a Western and I couldn’t imagine Mercedes Lackey writing a Western. I used to read a lot of her novels so, once I had read the publisher’s blurb, I knew I had to check it out. A combination of the Wild West and zombies? How could I resist? I think this one will appeal to pretty much every age group, for different reasons.
It’s 1867. Jett Gallatin is originally from Orleans Parish in Louisiana. She grew up as Phillipa Sheridan, a Southern Belle on Court Oaks Plantation, along with her twin brother Phillip. When the Civil War began, Phillip went off to fight, leaving Jett behind. And then soldiers came to town and destroyed everything Jett and her family held dear.
To escape the devastation, and to find her missing brother, Jett takes desperate measures. She disguises herself as a man and rides away on horseback from everything she ever held dear. Ever since then she has lived outwardly as a man, and made her livelihood as a gambler, while she travels alone in search of Phillip.
“She swung her leg over the saddle pommel and dropped gracefully to the ground. Oh Phillip, if you hadn’t taught me to play the boy so well, I’d be dead now.
She was just seventeen. She should have been getting ready for one of the many gala cotillions New Orleans boasted – had boasted – each spring. She thought with longing of the dress she would have worn…”
Honoria Gibbons is a woman way ahead of her time in many ways. Her father is a very eccentric scientist. She’s been raised to be capable and independent, to not hesitate to show her vast intelligence, and to apply the scientific method to everything in life. She travels the country alone investigating for her father, debunking superstitious myths about strange disappearances. Her mode of transportation is one of her father’s inventions, a steam-driven horseless carriage of sorts that also sports some wickedly powerful guns for fending off hostile forces.
“Most people would miss the subtle clues she’d noticed, but Honoria Gibbons took no small amount of pride in the fact she was not ‘most people.’”
While camping one evening, Honoria meets White Fox, a Native American scout who’s been sent out from his U.S. Army fort to find out why cattle drives and wagon trains are disappearing. Interestingly enough, White Fox wasn’t born a Native American but was raised by them and considers himself a Native American. She invites him to share her meal and camp with her for the night. They’re both headed in the same general direction, to Alsop, Texas, so they plan to travel together the next morning.
“’Not everyone in Llano Estacado is friendly,’ he finally said. ‘You’d be more comfortable in town. And safer.’
Honoria Gibbons smiled as if he’d said something amusing. ‘Oh, I think anyone who attempted to interfere with me would discover it to be a very bad idea.’
Her left foot moved a little as she spoke, and he froze as a slat dropped down on the side of the wagon. The muzzles of three deadly Gatling guns extended from the slot and pivoted to his position, though he was certain her wagon was unoccupied.”
Late that same afternoon, a weary Jett arrives in Alsop just before sunset. It’s a bustling little town, at least until a mob of zombies arrive early that night and begin to kill every human in sight. A horrified and terrified Jett barely escapes with her skin intact, and races off into the night straight into Honoria’s camp. As she recounts her story of what happened in Alsop, she’s met with incredible skepticism. Hoodoo? Zombies? Pull the other leg, why don’t you?
“Even through the cold, Jett could smell a stink like a New Orleans cemetery at high summer. The bar’s customers began to curse and complain, but before they could really get going, a horde of…unholy things…shambled in through the open doors…They’d been people once. Now they were dead half-rotted bodies with white-filmed, sightless eyes.”
Despite Jett’s attempts to get them to flee as far from Alsop as possible, Honoria and White Fox are determined to go to Alsop as planned the next morning. So, the three of them travel together. What they find is a completely deserted town, except one man behind bars in jail for being a public drunk. Although they find it odd that the town is completely deserted, Honoria refuses to believe zombies were behind the desertion without scientific evidence. White Fox also needs to find the source of yet another desertion, so he can report back.
To see if history will repeat itself, they decide to spend the night in town much to Jett’s horror. She will agree only if they find a secure location. Since the drunk appeared to have been safe in the stone jailhouse, they carry provisions into the jailhouse, lock themselves in, put the drunk back behind bars, and secure themselves in the neighboring jail cell. Darkness arrives and the drunk becomes a zombie. Not only that but zombies again roam the streets of the town. Needless to say no one gets any sleep and even Honoria has to admit those look like zombies to her. The next morning, their drunk zombie jail-mate collapses to the floor apparently dead as a doornail.
When White Fox discloses the extent of the disappearances occurring in the region, and how rapidly they’re spreading, the three of them decide they have to find out where the zombies are coming from and what can be done to stop them. Jett is certain that hoodoo mind control is involved. Honoria is certain there has to be a scientific explanation.
Can the three of them find the source of the zombie invasion? Can they stop the spread of zombies in the West? Will any of them survive the experience?
Jett is an interesting dichotomy. She talks about wishing she could still be in a corset and hoop skirts, lounging around on the plantation, but she obviously loves masquerading as a man because of the freedom it gives her. Honoria is one of those people who lives very true to who they are – a definite fish out of water for her time. White Fox is also a dichotomy, a Native American who isn’t one. So we’ve got three oddballs, who come together. They’re a fascinating trio, and I liked all three of them immediately. I’m not going to even mention the villain in Dead Reckoning because it would spoil the whole thing.
Although there are a couple of steampunk elements in this novel, I don’t feel they’re sufficient to consider this a true steampunk novel. Still, Honoria’s horseless carriage is quite inventive and would have fit in very nicely in the late 1960’s TV show The Wild, Wild West and the later movies based on it.
Dead Reckoning is more about mind control than zombies; however, the zombies are definitely zombies. It has a depth that most zombie novels don’t have and a definite point of view, about people’s willingness to give up who they are. I’m not going to say what they give themselves up to because that would be a major spoiler. I found it to be a very entertaining read and it could even make a good beach read.
Can’t wait to read it?
Dead Reckoning was published on June 5, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click on the button to go there to get it.
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