This book was very kindly provided by Tor through Net Galley in return for an honest review.
Let's get this out of the way first -- I love Deadlands.
For those who aren't familiar with it, Deadlands is a tabletop RPG combining the Old West setting with the mad science of pulp novels and the creepy horror notes of Lovecraftian and zombie tales. In addition to its own system, has also been converted to a number of more common tabletops over the years. I personally have the original book and the sourcebooks for both GURPS and Savage Worlds. They're generally the only source books I will take down and thumb through just for fun. Deadlands was one of my favorite games to play, one of the first ones I ever GMed and retains a spot in my heart as my favorite tabletop setting ever.
So when I heard Tor was putting out a series of books based on the setting, I'm pretty sure I couldn't have been more excited. So, if that matters to you, keep it in mind - I'm a fan, who thinks this is a spectacular setting for storytelling.
So, how about "Ghostwalkers" - is it good?
Yes. Yes, it's good. If you know Deadlands, it has most of what you want it to have. If you don't know Deadlands but think the idea of Cthulu showing up in a spaghetti Western would make for a heavenly bit of reading, you'll probably like it as well. It's an entertaining adventure with a cast of colorful characters, a bestiary of incredible creatures and a hero on a rough and rocky journey toward redemption.
Our main character is Grey Torrance, a man on the run from his past who can't quite stop himself from doing the right thing. When he comes upon a posse chasing after a Native American, the odds of six against one strike him as a bit off, so he involves himself. In doing so, he meets Looks Away, a Sioux scientist searching for a colleague, and gets set on a path toward a bigger destiny than he ever wanted.
As is almost required, Grey is a gunslinger - the sort old Roland of Gilead would probably say remembers the face of his father, even if he won't admit it. He finds himself tied up in the danger to a town called Paradise Falls, in the Great Maze of California, and from the moment that starts, the book is a pretty relentless runaway train, action piling into action until it reaches the wild final conflict where guns and philosophies cross.
If there's a definable weakness to this book, it's the beginning. The scenes are all interesting, xploring these new characters and the world around them, but there's something a little bit... I don't want to say episodic, not really. Disjointed maybe? The narrative smooths out quite a bit once they reach California and from that point the brakes are off. Also, this isn't a book you're going to read for the language, but it does sometimes manage to get quite evocative, bringing the oddities of this Old West to life. Still, there are some issues with the writing that you might notice - phrases that get returned to again and again, and a focus on certain types of description. If you're sensitive to that sort of thing, be warned.
Grey and Looks Away are both interesting characters, friends and at odds with one another in the same paragraph. Their interactions were my favorite part of this whole story. I'd honestly enjoy reading the continuing adventures of Grey and Looks Away. :) You will find they're not the most complicated and deeply developed characters in the world, but they're not really meant to be for the type of story this is trying to be.
The rest of the world is likewise filled with the sort of wonderful, colorful and broad characters you expect from a weird and violent western. There's corrupt lawmen, sharp-shooting rancherwomen, greedy rail barons, priests and honest cowboys and evil men trying to drive good folks off their homesteads.
And for those who want to know how it stacks up as a Deadlands story, they have you covered there too. There's weird and deadly mad-science devices, undead and Harrowed and Manitou, creatures that have no business in the modern-for-this-book United States, ghosts, the Great Maze and, of course, ghost ore to drive it all. The book explains it all for the benefit of people who aren't familiar with these terms and concepts, but I never found that the explanations took away from the book for me. I could have done with a huckster or some shamanistic magic, but there's two more books and I can be patient. :)
So if you want an adventure and love an old west setting with a twist, I really recommend this. It captures the mix of grit and romanticism of the old west, adds in a relentless villain who hangs like a shadow over the whole thing, and keeps the action piling ahead like a stampede. It's pretty much exactly what I wanted from this book.