Review: Let Sleeping Gods Lie by David J. West
Let Sleeping Gods Lie is a weird western fantasy combining the thrills of the California frontier with the chills of cosmic horror. Gun fights, strange artifacts, monsters, a good dog, and (of course) sleeping gods pepper this first book in the Cowboys and Cthulhu series.
Since this book is on the shorter side, this review will be a little more condensed so as not to give too much away.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Let Sleeping Gods Lie. I encourage you to check it out!
This review contains minor spoilers.
Let Sleeping Gods Lie Publisher Description:
Louis L’Amour Meets Lovecraft
Porter Rockwell, wanted for a murder he did not commit, is hiding out in Old California selling whiskey to thirsty forty-niners. When his friends dig up some monstrous bones and a peculiar book and offer to sell it for a helluva price, Porter can’t resist the mystery.
But when both his night bartender and the sellers are murdered at his saloon Porter has to find out what the mysterious artifacts are all about. With some Native American legends, Sasquatch, Lovecraftian horror, and murderous bandits thrown in, not even bullets and blades can stop Rockwell from leaving a swath of righteous carnage in his wake.
Let Sleeping Gods Lie is a weird western fantasy in the vein of classic pulp fiction and Louis L’Amour books. If you like frontier justice, larger-than-life characters, and witty humor, then you will LOVE the first installment of the Cowboys and Cthulhu series.
Follow David J. West:
The western aspect of this story takes the foreground early on. While the artifacts and references to the stars twinge the tension with the flavor of the weird, the action is largely drawn from the Gold Rush setting: a rough fist fight in a bar, gun fights in the wilderness, pursuing the bad guy on horseback. The action escalates quickly, too, keeping the reader’s focus on the “mundane” adventures in the old west, even as the stakes are raised on the stranger side of things.
This reflects the protagonist’s own preoccupation. Porter is a well-drawn character, possessing grit and wit both. But he is not an American Superhero archetype; he has built a small community and is invested in its well-being.
Right from the start, he suggests that as the little village grows, they might need a sheriff. His partner Jack scoffs when he implies he could be that sheriff, but the desire is a telling one that sets up Porter as a man of justice with a protective nature. It makes it far more believable when Porter actively puts himself forward to protect his people from a violent gang and morally acceptable when he forms them into a posse to hunt said gang down.
The step from there to risking his life for his community (and the world) when things take a weirder turn is not so difficult, and it makes sense that he felt the need to resolve the more immediate, if less cosmic, threat first.
Mary, one of his employees, is a major supporting character with better big-picture vision than Porter. I found her an enjoyable character, tolerable at his side by her tactile nature and specific skill set. She does not compete with him for girl-power points, nor is she there as a romantic interest at this time, but rather complements him. Her differing motivations and priorities keep the reader from disengaging from the coming cosmic conflict when the western action is at its most compelling.
Weird Western Cohesion
The early story smoothly integrated the western and fantastic elements. The event settings are grounded in a strong sense of place, enabling easy visualization of the changing dynamics during gun fights.
On the other hand, I felt that the underground, empty city is a bit derivative without ever rising to the level of description Lovecraft employed. That being said, this setting is easily recognizable to any weird fiction fan, and will no doubt cause delight in its inclusion, along with the monsters that appear there.
The pacing faces a similar mis-step. I found the change from conflict-heavy action to weird-driven tension a bit frustrating, especially as the climax approached. The pressure is certainly there to get you through, though, and the action returns swiftly.
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Let Sleeping Gods Lie is a compact story which exceeds reader expectations in both the weird and the western. I look forward to continuing the Cowboys and Cthulhu series!
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