Saturday, January 19, 2019

Donners of the Dead by Karina Halle

DNF @ 58%

Things I liked about this book:
+ the cover
+ the concept
+ the title

Things I didn't like about this book:
- everything else

A few years ago, Halle put most of her books on sale and I went on a buying spree. Karina Halle has a big cult following and I wanted to experience the edgy blend of horror and romance that she's become known for with books like Experiment in Terror and The Artists. What I'm quickly finding is that she's very hit or miss. Some of her books are very well done, and others are... not.

I was side-eying this book from the get-go with its slightly judgey sounding disclaimer in the blurb:

"A note about this book: Donners of the Dead is set in 1851 – couples were often thrust into marriage together with short courtships, racism was widespread and not overly frowned upon, and women had little to no rights. What wouldn't fly in today's day and age was unfortunately the norm back then - it is worth keeping that in mind when reading this book."

Like, I get the need for disclaimers if you're going to emulate a bodice-ripper from the days of yore. Whenever you're writing about a different era in which bad things happened to women and minorities, it can be uncomfortable - at best.

That said, there were nuances, even back then, and the words you used with certain people varied. It is pretty gross to see the love interest in this book casually deride the heroine for being half-Native, calling her pine nut, and, I think, "Injun." The others in their treasure-hunting party were certainly happy to fling the word "Injun" around like racist confetti. Which, on the one hand, okay, they are working class and ignorant, so it fits. But it felt gratuitous and, well, forced.

The plot of this book is pretty creative. Eve is hired on as a tracker to look for treasure when she and her party encounter a bunch of zombies influenced by the Wendigo myth. The execution was lacking. There's a lot of gore, but the horror lacks subtlety. Eve is a helpless heroine, shrieking, flinching, and constantly looking to Jake in a way that's reminiscent of Kagome's catch-phrase, "Go get 'em, Inuyasha!" Like, girl, take some responsibility and at least put some value on your damn life?

I did not like Jake at all, and the historical context seemed limited to homespun, casual racism in dialogue, and an overuse of the words "I reckon." I was hoping for Dawn of the Dead meets Rosemary Rogers, and instead I got... not that. If you're looking for a Western romp, just read Rosemary Rogers instead. Jake McGraw can only dream of being Steve Morgan when he grows up.

1 out of 5 stars

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