Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review - Honor Among Outlaws

Welcome back faithful readers, today I am going to take you on a bit of a trip away from the regular DTP fare. It has been over 3 years since my last book review and this book is a great way to jump back into that earlier practice. Over the next couple weeks I am going to go back and update the labels on the earlier book reviews to add the "book-review" label so these are easier to find. I'm also planning to start writing some regular book reviews for the blog, interspersed with the variety of other topics I am discussing.

That brings us to whats on the table today. Honor Among Outlaws is a new book I was blessed and privledged to be sent a preview copy to review. This is a new book not only along the lines of "newly published" but also a first on multiple fronts:
  • First book published under the Winged Hussar imprint Zmok Books
  • First book written in the Wild West Exodus alternate history 
  • First book written/published for author Craig Gallant
On recieving this book the very kind folks at Winged Hussar/Zmok Books sent along the following blurb: 
In an alternate history twisted through the evil influence of strange, mysterious creatures, the greatest figures of American history battle for dominance and control of a war-torn nation. High tech machines and weapons dominate the land as the world changes daily with each new invention.  Amidst this clash of giants, two lone outlaws, Jesse James and William ‘Billy the Kid’ Bonnie, strive for recognition and their share of the glory, struggling for their place on the national stage.

Craig Gallant has written fiction for several game companies and is the author of the comic published by Outlaw Miniatures for Wild West Exodus.  He co-hosts the internationally renowned gaming podcast, “The D6 Generation” available on i-tunes and on the website: and you can follow his blog at

Wild West Exodus is a game set in an alternative history of the US following the period of the American Civil War.  It is focused in the old west where Native Americans, outlaws and what is let of authority battle it out for control of the territories.  More information can be found at .

Zmok Books is an imprint of Winged Hussar Publishing, LLC dedicated to action, adventure and imagination.  It currently published books focusing on science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery.  Winged Hussar Publishing publishes books on military history from ancient times to the modern day for students of history and history students.  More information can be found at
 Let me provide a little background before diving into my overall review of the book itself. I familiarized myself with the Wild West Exodus "world/alternate history" last year when they ran a successful kick-starter. This game provides a "Weird West" feel similar to Firefly, but based in the setting of post US Civil War wild west. I was very excited when I heard that Craig was writing the back story for the game and this excitement carried over to hearing he would be writing a novel series as well. Followers of this blog are likely aware that I am a voracious reader with a variety of interests. My previous book reviews were on Black Library books which are primarily written in a "sandbox fiction" setting. Honor Among Outlaws (HAO) would be a new author writing in a new "sandbox fiction" setting. My expectations were set for a book that was a little rough (he is a new author) with what I would describe as a "pulp" style action story. I was expecting lots of action, little to moderate character development, and some exciting scene's that I would read through fairly quickly.

I wrote my previous reviews on the blog primarily for books written by Gav Thorpe and ADB. I chose these books because those two authors "broke the mold" I was expecting from the "sandbox fiction" they wrote. Their writing surpassed my general expectations for the genre and they provided excellent character development and story building, surpassing the typical genre writing. I have to add Craig Gallant to this list of writers as one I will watch in the future, as he achieves the same level of writing in HAO. This surpassed my expectation for typical "sandbox fiction" while simultaneously delivering a novel that feels like its written by a writer with more experience than someone's first published novel. In my experience this does not happen often and I applaud Craig on his work!

HAO introduces us to the world of Wild West Exodous (WWX) through the eyes of the infamous outlaw Jesse James. The story does a very good job of immersing us into the pseudo-sci-fi world of WWX while simultaneously introducing us to the bad ass outlaw leader himself. Gone are the expected wild west hallmarks of bullets, gunpowder, and horses and we are quickly introduced to the RJ-1027 (read secret and mysterious technology) blasters and gravity defying hover bikes. This immersion is handled elegantly, leaving enough questions out there to cause the reader to want to learn more but filling in enough holes that nothing feels forced. No where did I find myself scratching my head in confusion, the technical changes flowed naturally, allowing me to just accept the changes in the world while still feeling comfortable it was a world I knew. I especially enjoyed the "remember when we used to ride horses" discussions that came through a number of times in the book. These types of conversations not only helped flesh out the personality of the characters but also softened the immersion into this alternate history.

Jesse James is a sarcastic bad ass character and this comes through very quickly in the story. I really enjoy these types of characters and was a little concerned at the start of the book where the sarcasm felt a little forced to me. The criticism is a little hard to pin down, as I would describe it as the character being sarcastic but not sardonic. I realize these are synonyms but hopefully you understand where I am heading here. I have to point out that this impression smooths our a great deal as I reached the middle of the book and Jesse James became a fully established character in my mind and in the story.

Many new writers have issues with presenting fully fleshed out characters, often providing more of a "2-D cutout" character opposed to a "3-D" one. Craig did an excellent job avoiding this trap, not only fully realizing Jesse James as a well rounded character (flaws, strengths, doubts, dreams, and all) but going further to provide a real feeling for the primary supporting characters in the story. There are very few "2-D cutout" characters in the story and when those show up they are always shorter-term supporting characters where the level of detail is appropriate to their role in the story.


Overall I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more from Craig Gallant and more from the WWX "sandbox".  I only had two criticism overall in the book, which itself speaks to how good this book is.

Criticism #1 - I mention above the sarcasm displayed by Jesse James in the start of the book. This came across a little stilted or forced during the early chapters. This smoothed out a great deal as I reached the middle of the book and disappeared completely by the end. It's a minor criticism and something I likely pick up on as I really enjoy these types of characters.

Criticism #2 - I will not spoil the end of the book but the final chapters left me in a situation where I come to 2 differing opinions. The very nature of "sandbox fiction" limits the full extent of what an author can do within their story. An author writing Star Wars fiction cannot just kill off or maim Darth Vader too early. An author writing for 40K cannot have the Emperor jump off his Golden Throne and do a jig. Likewise there are limits on what Craig can do with this story. The end of the book leaves me with two paths to what happened.
  • Path #1 provides the basis for what could become one of the most devious, menacing, and downright interesting villains in a book series. 
  • Path #2 has Craig setting up an epic finale to his first novel and then running into the immovable "sandbox" wall and having to tap out in favor of maintaining the sandbox integrity. 
Considering there are 2 more novels coming I hold out for the first path, but can see where some readers will get the impression Path #2 is the reality. We will not know for sure until we see where the series is taken next, but I am worried that there is a different author for book 2.

Honor Among Outlaws is due for release on October 22, 2013. I strongly recommend this book and believe you will truly enjoy the plunge into the story!!

**For those that are interested, I will be posting an audio book review as part of the Gamers Lounge - No Gamer Left Behind segment in the next couple weeks. I will update this article when that's recorded and released.

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