BULLETPROOF WITCH: BEGINNINGS (Book 1-4) by Francis James Blair is a collection of the first four novels of the Bulletproof Witch series. I know, what a surprise. I really enjoyed this book collection, which is on the lighter side of reading with each book being just under two hundred pages and very easy to finish in a single day. As such, I encourage readers to just buy the collection and read it as a single volume rather than picking up each individual one.
The premise is that in a Wild West fantasy setting, Temperance Whitecloak is a Pistol Witch. Pistol Warlocks are individuals similar to hexslingers from Deadlands. They use magically engraved bullets that allow them to produce a variety of mystical effects on their enemies. Unlike the hexslingers of Deadlands, all the Pistol Warlocks are supposed to use their hand-engraved bullets to hunt daemons. Temperance is quite appalled to discover that her orthodox way of living the life of a monster hunter is not practiced as universally or as devotedly as she, herself, does.
In typical fantasy revenge story fashion, Temperance's hometown of Cold Valley is massacred by an army of daemons with her as the only survivor. Climbing on top of her talking horse, Astor, she sets out on a mission to hunt down and destroy the daemons' leader, Varconis, and avenge her family. It's just somewhat hurt because no one but a handful of demons have seemingly ever heard of Varconis and it's not like he's left a forwarding address.
Each of the novels within the omnibus is a self-contained adventure with the premise of Temperance trying to inch closer to her goal of revenge. Most of the time, she's less concerned with progressing her quest than the ever-present issue of money. Hexbullets cost a lot of her job is either a feast or a famine in terms of how much she's paid for bringing in slain daemons. This adds a nice level of grounding to the story as her goals remain strictly pragmatic.
I like the idea of doing a fantasy Western in a world divorced from our own and Francis James Blair does a good job of replicating the Wild West without strictly following Earthly history. There's some areas that I'm not 100% down with like the fact that there's no Native American equivalents and the continent was abandoned when the settlers arrived. Still, it is a pretty detailed but not obtrusive history that talks about the settlement of the world as well as its frontier-esque population.
THE DELIVERY OF FLESH is a story about how Temperance gets recruited to guard a warlock prisoner as he's transported across country to a more secure jail. This has the most Western style feel and reminded me a bit of True Grit with Temperance playing the Mattie role as contrasted to a more greenhorn Ranger. It's a pretty basic story but nicely eases you into the universe as well as its conflicts.
CURSE OF THE DAEMON BEAST is about Temperance visiting an outlaw squatter town that is being harassed by daemons but carries a bunch of secrets that prevent our heroine from investigating. I particularly liked this one because there's a lot of Twin Peaks-esque nastiness lying under the surface of small town life. It also calls into question some of what Temperance has been taught about daemons.
ARKTON AT HIGH NOON is the least Western of the omnibus and is a fish out of water story. After getting herself in serious trouble with the law after a drunken fight at a casino, Temperance gets dragooned into investigating the death of a foreign ambassador in the big city. Part of the humor is that she has no idea what she's doing and is utterly terrible at espionage but it kind of makes you wonder why she was recruited for it in the first place. I also miss the Wild West motifs.
DEATH RIDES AT SUNSET is the fourth book in the series that introduces vampires to the series. Temperance is doing her best to try to prevent a young man from becoming the victim of a vampire lord. There's a lot of build-up in this book for future events in the series but it comes across as very organic. We also get flashbacks to Temperance's training as a pistol witch and dealing with her early trauma/alcoholism.
The books have good action, good world-building, and fun characters. They also include a lot of LGBT content even though Temperance, herself, is straight. One thing I liked that was only in the individual copies of the books is that they were illustrated like light novels with manga-style art. Sadly, this disappears in the omnibus for what I presume was probably cost-related issues. Do I have any complaints? I feel the books are a bit on the short side, though each successive book is longer than the previous, but that isn't a problem when you read them all as one big collection. So if you like fantasy and like Westerns, you'll probably enjoy this.