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Review: The Nightland Express by J.M. Lee


Thanks to the publisher (Erewhon) for the ARC of this book.

I love the idea of weird westerns, but so far I haven’t managed to find a single one that’d satisfy the urge. I was especially excited at the prospect of one that deals with the racism and colonialism, but…I don’t know if it’s just because the cover and the blurb made me expect more weird western and less fae, but I wasn’t as much of a fan of The Nightland Express as I’d have hoped.

Jesse Murphy, intent on finding her father before her pregnant sister gives birth and excited at the opportunity to dress up as a boy, and Ben Foley, a mixed-race young man escaping slavery, sign up for a special assignment on the Nightland route of the Pony Express. Along the way, they quickly get entangled in the schemes of the fae.

Well. It’s mostly about the fae, which is where my main issue was. From the cover and the blurb, I very much expected it’ll be more about riding and overcoming dangers (supernatural and not) along the way and the characters, and it does contain some of that, but the “let’s go to X to deliver Y” plotline ends sooner than I’d have expected and in the end the whole book is really more about the fae and saving the world. It didn’t help that the characters were two-dimensional at best.

The pacing is also rather janky and rushed from about the middle onwards. A good example is a scene where a character is dying and the proposed solution is finding a magic cure…which is resolved in the span of maybe ten pages. It felt unearned. And the ending is a complete mess. Far too much gets introduced in the last third or so of the book when the story should be wrapping up.

Still, I found Jesse’s realisation about gender and the slow shift in pronouns from she to he in narration (with both used in the middle) very interestingly done. It’s clearly a very deliberate choice to have that ambiguity present and I liked that a lot.

Not sure if I recommend this one though. Decide for yourself.

Enjoyment: 3/5
Execution: 3/5

Recommended to: fans of fae
Not recommended to: those looking for a weird western

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