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The Weirdest Wild West

By Hejin57, author of Music Masters

Feb 9, 2019: No surprise, but the Western genre has always remained an attractive realm to write in. It allows a lot of freedom with wacky characters, colorful locales, and nonstop action. The Gray Ranger: Unforgiven is another tome within the Bolanderverse (if the author actually calls it that), and it’s flawed but still certainly worth a read.

Without spoilers, the story revolves around a man named Kulgan, a former Gray Ranger himself who has been cursed as a Twisted. His lifeforce is now tied to a stone that can transform him into a horrid, demonic monster, offering him great power at a monumental price. Through a series of early conflicts with bloodthirsty bandits, he becomes involved with former brothel girl Adlis and her servant Za. They’re of the zik and simmk races; resembling monkey-folk and strange, black-skinned scarecrow-esque beings respectively. These three unlikely companions become tied together in a quest to bring Adlis and Za to her hometown, and perhaps eventually, for Kulgan to find some purpose in his tortured existence.

Let me start with the pros. The story is fun, well-paced, and the action and banter are spot on. Characters and locales are set up well, and I applaud the author for so much originality in the concepts and races presented. From minor details like simmks being hyper-sensitive to sunlight to Adlis’s particular quirk of her ears changing color based on her feelings, creativity in this Western setting is in full force. Kulgan fits the lone ranger archetype well as well, and the aspect of his Twisted transformation gives the story a very Darkwatch-esque feel. Writing and grammar are great, and character voices especially are well-defined.

Which brings me to my cons. Biggest one of all is simply the tone. It’s unfortunately all over the place. Sometimes, you get the idea that this is a PG story, only for gory violence and implied sexual content to constantly push its way in. Much later on, there’s a few character moments that feel really off-putting when it came to the early tone that was presented, sometimes to the point where I wonder if it’s simply being done just for shock value. Not to say the story shouldn’t have mature themes, but they’re brought up so randomly that it can come off as very jarring. Beyond that, I did feel the story got a bit distracted during the Graylands arc, with a resolution that was less than favorable.

Still, while the story is flawed, I would still recommend you check it out. It’s a great take on the whole weird west sub-genre that has a lot of original ideas and places it can go. It’s not perfect, but really, nothing is.

EDIT: After some re-reading and some developments in later chapters, I’ve decided to amend my review to a solid 4 stars out of 5. Flawed, but creative and heading in a good direction.

Final score: 4/5

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