A guest review by Jenre
A book which excels in the descriptions of setting but is let down by too much story crammed into a short format.
Outlander Kell Laughlin has been charged with murder, and though Damian Junter is assigned to find him in Terra Noir, the bounty hunter has his doubts about his quarry’s guilt. Damian won’t kill an innocent, so he must find Kell and get to know him—and the truth—before dispensing justice. It’s a decision that will lead to passion between them and expose political intrigue in the ruling aristocracy, endangering their lives and changing the world Damian knows forever.
I was attracted to this novella by the steampunk stetting. I’ve only read a couple of other steampunk romances, and I was interested in the setting. That part of the book did not disappoint.
Damian is a ‘bringer’, a law enforcer for the Eastern states. He’s tasked with travelling to the uncivilised West to track down and execute justice on a man who has killed the wife and two children of an Eastern statesman. Things are not as clear cut as they usually are for Damian when he meets his quarry, Kell, and has his expectations and past knowledge overturned by what he learns in the dry, dusty heat of the West.
Let’s start with what I liked about this novella. Firstly, I thought the steampunk setting was very well executed. It jumps out of the page at you as I was drawn into the quasi-western ideas, coupled with the mechanical devices expected with the genre. The ideals and mores of the two societies – the corrupt East, with its cleanliness and beauty hiding the filth and ambition underneath; contrasted with the dirt, dust and bloodthirsty natures of the ‘Outlanders’ or people of the West, but whose natures are freethinking and progressive, was another part which I enjoyed reading about. Linking these cultures is Damian, whose job it is to enact justice through killing those Outlanders who have committed crimes against the East. He likes the absolutes of his job and believes strongly in the rules and laws of Eastern society. When Damian discovers a few disturbing truths, he is rocked to the core, and I found him to be an admirable and noble character. It’s not difficult to like someone who is so strong and decent, and Damian as a character fit well the idea of the lonely man who discovers that life is not as black and white as he once thought.
What didn’t work for me was in two areas. Firstly, the romance between Kell and Damian was too rushed in my opinion. The story is a sort of Gay For You, as Damian hasn’t ever considered sex with a man before. After Kell’s seduction and the rough sex they have, Damian leaves the scene, frightened by what has happened. However, after that, he pretty much accepts the change in his sexuality and carries on with no qualms or further soul searching, falling quickly in love with Kell. I think this is partly because there wasn’t any space left in the book for him to do so, as we swiftly move into a plot involving political corruption and the threat of war, but I still would have liked a more gentle, and perhaps believable approach to the GFY theme.
This moves me onto my second problem with the book. There was far too much crammed into the story. Not only do we have the initial set-up of Damian travelling West to execute Kell, and the relationship/romance which forms between them, we also have quite a complicated plot involving Kell’s father and the politics of the East. Then suddenly East and West are gearing up for war. It all happened too quickly and nothing was really explained fully. I found myself longing for more explanation and greater detail and a slower build up to the events. The book could have been twice as long as it is, with all that we are told towards the end, and that would have allowed the relationship between Kell and Damian to develop at a more appropriate pace.
As it is, this isn’t a bad book, it certainly had lots of great ideas and fascinating inventions, but it could have been so much more than the OK book it ended up being. If you’re looking for a book with a great setting and are willing to overlook the problems I had, then The Outlaw should be the book for you.