Devil from the River (Book one of Unforgiven Sins) by Andrew Whittaker
Sheriff David Nelson carved a life for himself in the southern frontier of the Confederacy. After the Fires of the Burning ended the world, everyone just did what they had to survive. A bounty here, a train job there, David lived by the gun at his hip. That was good enough for him. All of that changed the day that boy washed up on the river bank.
Now, David finds himself pulled back into the life he ran from. This devil from the river has given David a chance at the revenge that he was robbed of all those years ago. If he takes it, his soul will be burned to ash. But in this world where steam-powered soldiers and genetic mutations could kill him at any moment, what does he have to lose?
Devil from the River is a western steampunk story, and oh my ashes did it live up to those two genres. Spanning four different perspectives, Whittaker creates a world destroyed by fire, fearful of ‘old technology,’ and filled with enough gun-slinging heroes to keep you turning pages long into the night. When David Nelson, the cautious sheriff from River’s Edge, and his companions, Red and Tom, discover what they believe to be a devil washed up from the river, they have no idea how much trouble they’ve found and how dangerous their lives are about to become.
From a high level perspective, what I loved about Devil from the River was how smoothly the story flows. There are four perspectives, an entire world of new creatures and technology, and constant – yet supportive – hints at the characters’ pasts. With all the back and forth at the beginning of the novel, it took me a while to figure out that David truly was one of the two protagonists. We start with his perspective, but his importance doesn’t kick in for a few chapters. He’s curious about the mysterious Jerod who washes up on the riverbank, but we don’t see David’s motives for a while. But when they do appear… by the Ash Bringer’s beard, no one will doubt that this man has a grudge to settle. And he seems to have quite the fascinating backstory which Whittaker only briefly teases at. There’s heartbreak, lost political status, and a wide range of fighting skills buried in David’s past that round out this character.
Jared, on the other hand, is immediately important. A strange man with the ability to heal from anything? It was obvious that he has a huge role to play in this series, and just like David, Whittaker teases bits and pieces of Jared's past to make the readers fall for this unfortunate, yet powerful, creature. Jared is also poised as someone with differing beliefs – he has a strong connection to the earth, and several times he scorns the religious references that David and company make. It’s unclear just why Jared is so different in this regard, but from how events play out, it’s easy to make guesses.
Not to be outdone by the gun-slinging men, Terra, a young girl from River’s Edge, gets caught up in the chaos surrounding the “river devil” but finds critical parts to play when the action gets going. She’s humorous and insightful, and a very well written strong-minded female. She, too, has her own tragic backstory which was teased but not fully revealed, and I’m curious to see how much her story will eventually shape the events to come.
The setting and theme were skillfully set. Whittaker keeps his characters in character the entire time – there were no slips of language falling out of the southern twang he writes, and the stream of ash/fire/burning exclamations he adds to the dialogue are a fun element that also shape these characters’ worlds. From alien creatures to futuristic inventions, readers are fully immersed in this steampunk world, and I, for one, am so excited to learn more about its past and how much more danger it holds. Bone Rippers, Death Walkers, guns, and various engines – there are so many creative elements that make up this post-apocalyptic steampunk setting, making it really fun to read.
Fortunately, Whittaker is working on a sequel, so we won’t have to wait too long for another installment in this fire-scorched world. Learn more about Andrew Whittaker and his Unforgiven Sins series on his website: http://www.andrewdwhittaker.com/.