DNF Review: Revenge and the Wild, Michelle Modesto (2016)

February 1st, 2016 7:00 am by mad mags

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

DNF at 60%.

The synopsis for this book had me seriously pumped. Like, you had me at “cannibals.” Everything else – the epic genre mashup; a foul-mouthed, unladylike, semi-mechanical heroine; the throwback to my favorite childhood computer game; and monsters galore – was just gravy. My expectations were off the chart, especially given my recent reading streak: The Unquiet, Wolf by Wolf, Shallow Graves, Cinder, Scarlet, Menagerie. I thought for sure this’d be another home run.

Alas, it was not to be. Some of the elements were quite stellar. Exhibit A: The monsters. All manner of creatures call Rogue City home: elves, leprechauns, vampires, werewolves, ogres, bakhtaks, and banshees; Westie even has her own pet chupacabra named Jezebel (a rescue chupacabra, no less!). There are zombies in the form of The Undying; consuming creatures (or too much vampire blood, which has healing properties in small amounts) will turn humans into raging monsters. Kansas was overrun with them; the plague is what precipitated Westie’s family’s migration across the treacherous wagon trails. And out west, the creature wars made life equally difficult. While the wars are over, tensions between monsters and humans remains high. It’s only the Wintu tribe’s magic that keeps the creatures of Rogue City from killing their human neighbors (though it seems mighty unfair that this curse only goes one way).

The steampunk gadgets are pretty rad too. Westie’s mechanical copper arm can literally crush skulls, and Alistair’s clockwork mask – which both conceals the scars he suffered in a cannibal attack and houses a voice box that allows him to speak – are badass. There are mechanical horses; airships and land engines; baloons and aeroskiffs; and metal telegraph birds. Nigel’s latest big invention, Emma, involves using gold to amplify the earth’s magic, which is slowly being depleted by industrialization.

And there’s no wanting for creativity when it comes to the genres: Revenge and the Wild is various parts western, steampunk, fantasy, and horror.

This book is brimming with potential. So where did it go wrong for me?

Perhaps most importantly, the characters mostly felt flat and one-dimensional. Nigel, Alistair, Costin, Isabelle, Bena – there’s very little complexity or character development with them. E.g., Bena is the strong, silent warrior type; Isabelle is a flighty, superficial, boy-crazy society girl; and Costin is the suave, sexy, mysterious vampire (at least he doesn’t sparkle?).

On the other end of the spectrum, Westie is all over the damn place. She runs from hot to cold in seconds, wanting to cuss Nigel out one moment and hug him the next. She’s a horrible friend to Isabelle; she seems to despise all that is feminine about the girl, which led me to wonder why they were friends at all. This is especially egregious considering that Isabelle forgave Westie for accidentally breaking her fingers with her prosthetic arm when they were children – when everyone else still holds a grudge.

There’s actually a rather jarring contrast between the gory subject matter and Westie’s seemingly childlike behavior at times. She’s slow to pick up on things – such as when Nigel has to explain the trick with the gold to her at length – yet we’re supposed to believe that Nigel trusts Westie’s judgement enough to let her hunt down cannibals all by her lonesome. She insists on spying on the Fairfields even when she knows she can’t keep a poker face around them. She’s her own worst enemy, and not always in a compelling or believable way.

Also, Westie’s account of how she escaped from the cannibals? Full of more holes than a living dead girl.

Under other circumstances I might have powered through the entire book – it isn’t terrible, and I’ve certainly made myself finish worse. But my arms broke out in a really nasty poison ivy (?) rash right before I started. I was in desperate need of a distraction, and Revenge and the Wild just wasn’t getting the job done.

Maybe I’ll pick it back up later; maybe not. Whenever I’m lucky enough to get my hands on a really good book, I find myself thinking about it all the time. On rare occasions I might skip out on dinner with the husband or forgo my favorite television shows in order to get back to it. This book, though? Out of sight, out of mind. Major bummer, seeing as I was so, so looking forward to it.

(This review is also available on Library Thing and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Westie lost an arm to cannibals and now wears a mechanical copper prosthesis. At just 17 years old, Westie is a recovering alcoholic.

Alistair also survived a cannibal attack; he suffered injuries to his neck and jaw that left him mute and scarred. He wears a clockwork mask that hides the scars and also houses a voice box that allows him to speak.

Rogue City is home to the Wintu, a Native American tribe; it’s their magic that protects the humans of Rogue City from creature attacks. They took Westie in and healed her after her escape. Bena Water-Dancer is one of Westie’s few close friends. Among the other named (but minor) characters are Big Fish, Grah, Rek, Chaoha, and Tecumseh.

Nigel is originally from Africa, but spent most of his life in England before immigrating to America. His skin is described as a shade lighter than strong tea.

Nadia, a victim of a cannibal attack, is a sex worker; Westie believes she’s unlikely to see justice because of her profession.

Hung Zhoa, a Chinese woman, is a vendor at the morning market.

Animal-friendly elements: Nigel rescued Westie’s pet chupacabra, Jezebel, from poachers.


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