Friday, June 12, 2015

Husk: A Maresman Tale review

    Husk is a fantasy Western taking place on another planet far in the future where demons, called Husks, now menace the world. Much like dhampyrs or Witchers, Maresmen are supernaturally-powered inhuman warriors who prowl the cities in search of these monsters.

    Jebediah Skayne is one of the most formidable Maresmen alive, the only one better being his mentor Mortis, and he's tracked a particularly foul Husk to a small port-side city on the edge of civilization. This Husk is more cunning and powerful than most of their kind, having killed a number of Jebediah's fellow Maresemen, and is currently hiding amongst the hundreds of citizens around him.

    Jebediah must unravel the secrets of the community, from corruption to sex to supernatural shenanigans, in order to determine who the hidden Husk is. He must also figure out if he's going to pursue it at all once he discovers that the creature may have a far more intimate tie to him than he ever expected.

    Husk lives and dies dependent on the perspective of Jebediah Skayne and I very much enjoy what a complete bastard our protagonist is. He's ruthless, cunning, and kind of a scumbag. Yet, he's also incredibly observant as well as well-realized. We understand why he's the way he is as well as why he looks down on the whole world--which is the mark of good writing. I also like that while he's incredibly tough, Jeb's crap at his job.

    For all of Jebediah's skill, he's not all that motivated to kill Husks due to having been recruited at gunpoint as a child by the sociopathic Mortis. As a result, he oozes contempt for the townsfolk who impede his investigation into the Husk's activities and you can tell he'd just as soon let them deal with the murdering beast themselves.

   I've seen many a ruthless capable antihero in fiction but it's actually kind of awesome to see one who'd rather play cards and have sex with the local women than hunt demons. Jeb is a lazy hunter and that attitude makes him go unexpected directions when you'd think he'd follow the typical heroic path. No, that would require him to care about the townsfolk and, honestly, given how they treat him, it's no wonder he's barely on humanity's side.

    D.P. Prior has a gift for prose, making the act of reading about his world a lush and intriguing experience. Jeb may not be the most likable protagonist but having dumped yourself into his head, you experience what it's like to live in this world in ways both big and small. The Western feel is everywhere despite the fact D.P. frequently sees when a typical one would saw. It takes place in a smelly wet fishing village versus a dry desert, guns are useless versus swords, and the hero's skill with cards is non-existent.

    Yet, a Western it is.

    A fantasy Western that manages to give us insight into how the people live, their government operates, and their attitudes on just about everything. We learn about what they believe in the future and how they deal with demons. I also like the fact that all of this is done with a minimum of exposition. D.P. Prior doesn't tell you facts about his world, they arise organically from his character interaction.

    The book isn't without flaws. I think it would have been stronger if he'd skipped the first chapter, which is from the perspective of a small chapter rather than Jeb, and gotten to our antihero. I also think the ending was a little uneven due to the fact we're expected to sympathize with a character I really think Jeb would have just killed and called it a day with. I am curious where the story goes next, though.

    This is a fun story with a lot of atmosphere. The plot moves at a slow, somewhat language pace, but the whole appeal of the book is that it is transporting you to another planet. As such, I'm willing to take my time. A warning for those of sensitive natures, Jeb is kind of a pig when it comes to women but at least the book acknowledges it.


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