The Crowman is the first in a planned series of nine novellas known collectively as ‘The Chronicles of the Fallen’. It begins following Cheveyo Santiago, a man who can sense the presence of evil following a childhood scrape with death. He is drawn to the undead like a moth to a flame and knows the secrets of sending such spirits back to the hell that created them.
He receives a vision that some bad voodoo is going down in the little town of Providence and decamps to The Lucky Dollar, a dive of some ill repute that would have felt comfortable to anyone who has watched a western flick produced in the last 70 years. Poker games and powdered ladies mix with more unsavoury characters; the smell of stale sweat combines with that of strong spirits. Here he meets Ruby, who has taken advantage of the flood of people a local ‘shootist’ competition has brought to earn some fast coin playing cards. It isn’t long before Ruby gets drawn into helping Cheveyo to try and track down the supernatural entity known as the Crowman, who seems hell-bent on reducing the population count of Providence. Things are complicated further by the fact that the town is owned by an unsavoury character known as Carlton, whose rule seems to be largely enforced by fear.
The setting is some time after a suitably-cataclysmic event has changed the land to the extent that the sun fills half the sky and bleaches the ground. At night come dark spirits rising from the shadows, feeding on the remnants of society. The author has the tone spot-on: a gritty world that has fallen into a wild-western level of society, but a society who seem bitterly aware of a more comfortable past their ancestors may have enjoyed. It has a Dark Tower vibe to it; an edge that seems to plausibly describe a society surviving in the shadow of their past.
I see many books attempting to mix genres and most of them fall flat on their face. Often it seems the idea of the mash-up that drives the novel, or that the author just likes those two genres and tries to inelegantly bash them together. The Crowman is not like that at all. The backdrop, the very idea of this post-apocalyptic weird western, seems to be written around the story because the story demands it — not the other way round.
I was drawn to the story almost from the start, although it must be said that the author tries too hard to impress in the first chapter with some overly descriptive prose. Thankfully though it quickly settles into a rewarding and addictive read, so don’t be put off. Considering this is a novella-length story the worldbuilding is impressive, carefully constructing a picture of a savaged land without giving way to extended bouts of exposition. The characters are equally well-drawn, not only lively and interesting but also reacting realistically to situations around them. As such it doesn’t feel too short and there is little wasted space. Some authors could learn a lesson here on how to tell a convincing story in fewer pages.
The plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and there is a good blend of action, drama and story-building. At times I was reminded of the TV series Supernatural (without the cheesy music): the investigative style and details like the scattering of salt at the entrances to a room. The quality of the prose (notwithstanding the overflowery start) is excellent; the author has a wonderful talent for creating living, breathing characters and then putting them in some tense, well-described situations. The whole thing works well and I was hooked right to the end.
The Crowman surprised me. It’s an enticing, fun, engaging read, written by a seriously talented author. It’s one of my favourite stories so far this year.
Title: The Crowman
Author: Gareth Cleg
Publisher: Twisted Fate Publishing