Title: Devils Unto Dust
Author: Emma Berquist
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.
I found this book through a recommendation list, and I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t know it was a Western crossed with a horror movie, and I’ve never been a fan of spaghetti Westerns myself. Maybe it was the countless hours spent at my grandfather’s side, watching John Wayne movies, but the genre generally doesn’t appeal to me. I like my escapism with a fantasy tilt. But Devils Unto Dust was a surprising, gritty book that doesn’t hold back, whether on the action or the blood and guts. I enjoyed it, far more than I expected to. The only thing that prevented me from giving it a full five stars was that the plot got kind of repetitive, though I think that that’s to be expected, considering that this meaty debut was close to five hundred pages. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this crazy, horrific roller coaster of a novel, and had few qualms with it. The characters were strong and well-drawn, the plot original, and the pacing sharp and exciting. I really liked the writing style as well.
Daisy ‘Willie’ Wilcox’s world ended when a deadly disease spread through her tiny town of Glory and beyond, turning people into ‘shakes’: zombies who crave the taste of human flesh, their brains fried of all human thought except for hunger, rage, and survival. As if she didn’t have enough problems, her no good drunkard of a pa has stolen money from The Judge, the man who rules over Glory with an iron fist, and has sent Willie to collect it, complete with a bounty on her pa’s head. But the shakes aren’t the only danger that the dry deserts hide, and so she asks two hunter brothers to help her. On her journey, she discovers that she must rely on every bit of strength, wit, and skill to survive, because the desert takes everything in the end…
Like I said, this book was a really pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did; Westerns tend to come off as really dry and rather ridiculous to me. But that plight didn’t befall Devils Unto Dust. The pacing was sharp, moving at a fast clip, and I was captivated entirely by Willie’s rough, wry voice. The worldbuilding was really impressive, too, though I would’ve liked more information as to how the infection came about and spread. I was spellbound, often against my will, by the dangerous desert landscape that Willie has to brave to save her family and the last of her livelihood. I also really enjoyed the other characters: Curtis and Ben Garrett, the two brothers who guide Willie across the barren flatlands, riddled with shakes and many other dangers, Micah, Cath, and Calvin, Willie’s younger siblings, Sam Kincaid, the stubborn, reserved doctor’s son, and of course, Willie’s Pa. This book delivers on action, tension, and more than a little gore; I was laughing, cheering, crying, screaming, and cringing throughout the book. And that ending—holy moly! I was completely floored, and I’m a little sad that this book is a standalone. I couldn’t give it a full five stars due to some light plot recycling, but it was really enjoyable, nonetheless, and I can’t wait for more from Emma Berquist! The bottom line: A gory, vicious, and emotional thrill ride that mashed up an old-school Western and a George Romero movie, I loved Devils Unto Dust! Next on deck: Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by M.T. Anderson!