Michelle Modesto has crafted a fantastical wild west, generously lifting mythologies from several cultures and throwing them into a pseudo-steampunk-lite setting. The mystery (did they do it or didn’t they?) was excellent but admittedly the plot and the characters were weak enough that this is a book I foresee dividing readers into two camps: love or did not finish. The difference between those two outcomes probably resides on getting past the halfway mark without completely giving up on one of the most thoroughly unlikely (and unlikable) heroines to come out in the YA genre.
Story: Westie lives in a Northern California Wild West town protected through Native American magic from a host of dangerous fantastical creatures. Cannibals took her family and her arm and now she gets by thanks to being adopted by a brilliant scientist who gave her a mechanical arm. Along with Alistair (another adopted who lost part of his face and voice to cannibals as well), they assist Nigel and eke out a small living. But when the mayor and a prosperous family come to buy one of Nigel’s inventions, Westie believes she recognizes them as the people who mutilated her and ate her family Exposing them has its own risks – including all their futures which are tied up in the family’s purchase of Nigel’s machine. And are they really the ones behind her misfortune?
I really did have a hard time getting into the first half of the story. Westie is about as unpleasant a character as I’ve read in a long time: smelly, dirty, foul mouthed, inconsiderate, rude, troublesome, teen alcoholic, and incredibly self centered. And indeed, most of the book is spent watching her rush off straight into predicaments that also manage to hurt, injure, disappoint, or infuriate those who have cared for her and saved her life. I respect that this was a conscious choice on Modesto’s part to create a unique YA character. But be prepared to be completely disgusted and disinterested in her.
Creating all kinds of logic and believably issues, there are not one but three love interests willing to throw their lives away for her/follow her around infatuated/willingly become embroiled in her messes and schemes. Perhaps it is fortunate that we can’t use the sense of smell in books, because this girl who doesn’t bathe or clean doesn’t seem to detract the suitors (and if we could smell her, we’d never believe it). Nor does a mouth and temperament as foul as the body lead anyone to avoid her. The suitors are all the typical reverse harem types: loyal childhood friend, mysterious sexy vampire, aristocratic and handsome mischief maker. Let’s not throw out other cliche characters including: the ‘gentle savage’ bestie, vain “Nellie Oleson” type (who is still a best friend despite Westie crushing her fingers when they were young and otherwise being rude to her), and fatherly figure who can’t seem to control his reckless charge. Yes, there are a lot of flat cliche characters here and don’t get me started about using creatures from different cultures (leprechauns? trolls? etc.) EXCEPT Native American (I really feel there was a lost opportunity here).
The plot and smooth writing did keep me reading long enough to get past that 50% point and finish the book. It was touch and go for awhile though – I just didn’t care about any of the characters and the love interests were so over idealized as to be wince worthy. But I really did want to get to the heart of the mystery and see how the author would finish it. Certainly, a late game huge plot twist made the trudge rewarding, though the mystery took a back-seat to a lot of melodrama.
Revenge and the Wild is a book that will likely divide readers into love or indifference. I did enjoy it by the end – despite or in spite of the character of Westie and the silly love interests. But I also did have to force myself to keep reading by the midpoint as well. Modesto has certainly crafted an ‘anti-YA” heroine and something much more original than we usually see in this genre. With a little bit of steampunk, a bit of horror, and a bit of historical urban fantasy thrown into the mix. Reviewed from an early advance review copy provided by the publisher.