A review by Joey Madia
In this age of comic book and tent-pole action film mania (I am listening to the soundtrack of Thor: Ragnarok as I type), it is a given that talented authors who write cinematically with plenty of action and larger than life characters should enjoy increased readership.
R.S. Penney and his writing meet these criteria. Desa Kincaid: Bounty Hunter is a fun, action-packed horse-ride from beginning to end.
Another area where I am seeing increased traction as a writer and reviewer is in genre-bending and mashups. Desa Kincaid is a Sci-Fi Western (sort of a Cowboys vs. Aliens meets Stephen King’s The Dark Tower) that succeeds because it employs both its genre Tropes with confidence and effect while smashing to bits just as many.
Sci-Fi and the traditional Western, when you deconstruct them, are excellent bedmates. They each traffic in religious and philosophical questions and metaphors and both are driven by Landscape. Vast, unexplored spaces. They pit humans not only against each other, but that very Landscape, and, like Fantasy, they feature the journey in the Hero’s Journey as a major part of the plot. Think of the success of Star Trek (pitched by Gene Roddenberry as “Wagon Train to the stars”), the cowboy archetype that is Han Solo, and the cult following enjoyed by Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
But don’t glean from this opening that Penney’s novel is more of the same. Like I said, he smashes as many Tropes as he employs.
Which makes for a provocative, page-turning read.
The eponymous heroine is damned near perfect—a consummate cowboy character, tough as nails, deeply committed to the Quest, and still beautiful and feminine. We cannot help but root for her.
Penney’s world is one steeped in the supernatural. Highly trained wizard-warriors harness and manipulate energy, replacing the roaring campfire with coins that produce the needed heat. This is a good example of the Trope employing/busting duality that I so enjoyed. We have the classic campfire scene… but without the campfire! Nothing lost, everything gained.
Enter another Trope: Desa is pursuing the villain in black at great cost to her and those around her. She has broken from her Order in order to do so. And she must assemble an unlikely team of comrades—some of whom could betray her at any moment—which calls to mind classics like The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Magnificent Seven. The stakes are higher than in your typical Western, thanks to the Sci-Fi aspects. In most Westerns, the villain wants to control a town. Here, it’s nothing less than the Universe.
Penney goes modern with this team of nontraditional players, which include a pair of homosexuals that Desa rescues from slavery and hanging; a lesbian who lifts Desa’s grief at a crucial moment in her journey; and Desa and others are bisexual. Although we haven’t seen much at all of this sexual freedom in the classic Western—or in Sci-Fi, though it’s increasing—it works seamlessly here. It also succeeds in smashing the male-dominated Sci-Fi and Western genres. The goddesses of this world are Mercy and Vengeance.
A powerful expression of what drives us to our best and worst.
Desa Kincaid also employs all the best “stranger comes to town” Tropes that fans of the Western have come to love in the Larry McMurtry novels and Clint Eastwood films of decades past. Distrustful townspeople, sassy bartenders and prostitutes, and law men and women who hurt as much as they help.
At the heart of Desa Kincaid: Bounty Hunter is a deep spiritual quest. A classic fight between Good and Evil, Light and Dark. Spirituality and the harnessing of natural forces through the Ether are misperceived as witchcraft. And there’s a timely theme of men accusing powerful woman of consorting with Dark Forces in order to control those women and women accusing men of making things worse with their primary impulse to aggression. The witch trials of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries quickly come to mind.
Desa is committed to her craft. To the training of the mind and body through meditation and her relentless practice of craft. And Intention governs all. And there is also the aspect of Technology being mistaken for Magic, which recalls Sci-Fi great Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
I mentioned action. Desa Kincaid has plenty. Gunfights and supernatural battles. There are even zombies of a sort, and their scenes are where the action is most intense. Think of Red Dead Redemption in narrative form.
Desa Kincaid ends with a cliffhanger. There are certainly more questions to be answered. It’s said that Desa is a widow and intimated that she did not get on with her husband’s family.
Given that there are eight books in Penney’s Justice Keepers Saga, we might expect plenty more of the Sci-Fi meets Western stories of Desa and her comrades and adversaries in the future.
I for one am looking forward to reading more.
AUTHOR: R.S. Penney
TITLE: Desa Kincaid: Bounty Hunter
PUBLISHER: Creativia, 2019 Publications
Available on Amazon. (Creativia, 2019 Publications). Available on Amazon.