I love the idea of the Old West. The gunslingers, the shootouts, the gut-drilling combination of whiskey and baked beans—I love it all. Felix Gilman’s “The Half-Made World” plays on everything I love about the Wild West, and then injects it with some much-needed originality: namely, dark magic and steam punk. Gunmen with possessed revolvers roam a seemingly never-ending frontier, battling locomotive monsters that live and breathe industrialization. The gunmen belong to the order of the Gun (they didn’t put much thought in their organization’s title) and they fight the engines and machines of the Line (another short and sweet title), whom are vying to bring civilization and technology to the lawless west by any means necessary.
Sadly, “Shane” could never live up to that sort of action. (And just so you know, for Western aficionados, that’s like saying John Wayne was pansy. So, I’m living on the edge here.)
The plot is original and exciting. It’s a unique twist on a well-worn concept, and it shows. Gilman spends most of the book highlighting his characters and the setting. The three main characters (John Creedmore the gunmen, Officer Lowry of the Line, and Liv the innocent psychologist) are all fleshed out completely, and reader is left with an in-depth understanding of their motives, goals, and fears.
The setting, however, is the main star of the story. Gilman loves to describe the mountains, prairies, and deserts that the characters trek through with the utmost detail—and he does a great job. The scenery really does come to life, and when the characters venture out into the maddening and undiscovered realms of the West, Gilman makes sure that the readers are well aware of why the land is truly insane—time seems to stand still, violent creatures roam about, and reality begins to slip into the realm of fantasy and the impossible. It’s exciting stuff.
Yet, the big bummer is that the book is set up for a sequel, and it feels like a let down. Gilman drones on and on about certain key world-changing facets in the plot (I wont give anything away), raises tons of questions, and then doesn’t answer them. Characters are dropped off quickly (and after spending dozens of pages through their POV while witnessing the world around them, it feels kind of hollow to leave them so quickly), things start to feel a little too hopeless in the plot, and then quicker then you can say “multi-book deal,” the story just ends. Honestly, at times it feels like Gilman was more focused on the setting then the actual plot, and it shows by the fact that the reader is left feeling rather unfulfilled by the events in the story.
Overall, though, it’s a great book and well worth the read.