A Review of Bodacious Creed, A Steampunk Zombie Western by Jonathan Fesmire

A little bit of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a little bit of Old West lawlessness, and a little bit of mystery rolled into one.

What is Bodacious Creed: A Steampunk Zombie Western About?

In this Steampunk Western, U.S. Marshall James Creed has a reputation for always getting the bad guy. When the pursuit of a particularly nasty gunman brings Creed to Santa Cruz, he finds much more than justice. When Creed dies in the line of duty, that should have been the end of his “Bodacious” legend. Instead, a stranger revives him in her secret laboratory a few days later. He’s gotten a few enhancements along the way, but struggles to find how he fits into the world in his new state. Set against a backdrop of the Old West enhanced by retro-futuristic tech, Creed must get to the bottom of a conspiracy that dominates life in the city.

What I Thought of Bodacious Creed

Like the synopsis above, the one on the book itself puts Creed unambiguously in the middle of the narrative. For the most part, this is true. But imagine my surprise when it took until Chapter 4 for the mythic Creed to make his first appearance. The first three chapters are about the woman who revives him. You find out immediately that Creed is her long-lost father, she has impressive technical skills, and the minutiae of the saloon she runs. Without warning, the story all but leaves Anna behind, only to return briefly to her point of view at the end. I felt like this gave the book a bit of a split-personality disorder that detracted from my reading experience. I had already invested heavily in Anna as a character, but she is largely absent from the middle of the book, or only seen through the eyes of others. In general, I don’t mind books that change POVs between chapters. But if a pattern isn’t established early on, the effect can be jarring.

You Know I’m all About that Pace, ‘Bout that Pace (No Treble)

As I writer/editor myself, I personally would have started the story with the events of Chapter 4. This would have put Creed’s death as the hook at the end of the first chapter. With “zombie” in the subtitle, I didn’t think the story needed to wait so long “bring out your dead.” Killing off the main character in the first scene could have been really striking and delivered on the promises of “zombie” and “Western” right off the bat. Many first novels have these same sort of growing pains – I know mine did! – so I am interested to see how the sequel feels in comparison.

Thrilling action and quality sleuthing abound, don’t get me wrong. But it took a little too long for the stakes to fully unfold for my taste. Once I got to the end and read through the Author’s Note, I think I finally understood why. This book is a product of a Kickstarter campaign and sort of a love letter to Santa Cruz. The author inserted inside jokes and references, such as an homage to a local band. I suspect many of the named characters who appear early then disappear were backers of the project. Rob Cantrell even got to co-create his bounty hunter character with the author. That character’s point of view chapters had the strongest writing of the entire book, in fact.

Though Cantrell was a valuable addition, in general I think the book as a piece of fiction suffered some for the sake of the Kickstarter project and creator’s goals. For instance, the name of the band gets shoe-horned into situations where it interrupted the flow of the conversation or narrative sometimes. And it is much harder to change a book in the editing stage, or give it time to breathe, if you need to make sure you meet your obligations to your backers.

A Second Edition?

It would be interesting to see an update at some point where Bodacious Creed is treated strictly as a piece of commercial fiction rather than a Kickstarter project. There are excellent story elements and characters in this book! I’d love to see the little tweaks to pacing the story would need to let them shine. That said, if you prefer books that mosey rather than gallop, you’ll enjoy the current edition how it stands.

Have you read Bodacious Creed or anything else by Jonathan Fesmire? Do you know of other Steampunk Weird West tales other readers would enjoy? Leave us a comment!

 

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