You Die When You Die (West of West #1) by Angus Watson

youdieI know you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but, the cover for You Die When You Die is awesomely cool and, in this particular instance, I think it’s safe to say ‘be that person’ because the content of this book is just excellent.  I loved this.  My only regret is not picking it up sooner, although in my endless search for silver linings at least I now don’t have to wait for book 2.  Angus Watson has discovered a way to fill his books with death and bloodshed and yet at the same time provide you with enough banter and heart to stop it becoming stomach churning.  He creates characters that you just fall in love with and in this book we have a group of refugees who will warm the cockles of even the most stony constitution.

Basically the story involves a prophecy, a death warrant for an entire village and a number of people on the run after a village boy foretells the death of everyone in the tribe.

As with his Iron Age series Watson has cast back into history for inspiration.  The setting is North America, the time approximately 1,000 years ago when Vikings, with their ‘you die when you die’ philosophy and desire for adventure had travelled far and wide and a small tribe of them were established amongst the native Americans in a village known as Hardwork.  Known as the ‘Mushroom Men (because of their fair hair and skin) they lead an almost slothful lifestyle.  When they arrived in Goachica territory the locals believed them to be favoured by the Gods and so look after their every need – giving a lie to the name of the Hardwork village and people.

The Calnian Empire, in which Goachica lies, is ruthless, impressive and magical.  Following a series of disturbing dreams the Empress seeks advice from her chief warlock who predicts that the dreams contain a dire warning of pale skinned invaders destroying the world.  The result is a decree that the entire Hardwork people be slaughtered and their village razed.  The Empress sends her feared Owsla to undertake the task.

I don’t think I need to say too much more about the plot although in a really surreal way I couldn’t help thinking of Watership Down when I was reading this.  Bear with me now, Watership Down starts with a young rabbit predicting the end of the warren, a group of rabbits running away and then being chased by the rabbit ‘police’ – the Owsla – although that’s pretty much where that train of thought ends it gave me a smile.  Anyway, following their narrow escape there follows a cat and mouse style chase over hostile territory (hostile mainly due to the Empress decreeing that any tribe supporting the Mushroom Men will also be wiped out), skirmishes, captures, wild creatures of the most dramatic nature and help where it’s least expected.

What I really loved about this story is the characters.  The Mushroom Men are just great and they have the most outrageous names (nicknamed as children the names simply stuck) which really do lend some of the scenes an unexpected dose of humour that is most welcome and helps to prevent certain scenes from becoming too unpalatable.  The thing is these vikings, they have such strength of character, they’re courageous and they all care for each other – well, there are a few less likeable characters but Watson is pretty ruthless and the pen being mightier than the sword a fair few fall foul of his bloodthirsty prose.  I like that the author isn’t shy of killing off his characters, don’t get me wrong, I had a moment where I thought we were going to run out of people to continue the story with, but, it all helps to raise the tension.  Then there’s the Owsla – all women with enhanced abilities.  You’re not supposed to like them and yet what do you know – they just grow on you, particularly as the story progresses and we learn more of their history and how they come to be so magically endowed.  Finnbogi the Boggy is the main character and he’s basically a rather lovable young man.  He’s a bit of a coward, he over estimates his own mental prowess and he’s also a tiny bit (by which I mean completely) ruled by his hormones, which see him fall in and out of love with some of his female tribe members during which he becomes a tad obsessive.  His current obsession is Thyri Treelegs.  He’s pretty useless in a tight spot, I would probably be more helpful – and that’s really saying something given that I’m such a raging coward that I don’t even have my ears pierced.  What can I say though, Watson is consistent, in spite of a few revelations along the way, he doesn’t suddenly convert Finnbogi into the ‘chosen one’ even though you can see changes for the good by the end of the story.   I guess the constant threat of death and running for your life across country will serve to bring your head out of the clouds.

The writing is really good.  I have to applaud an author who can balance the bloodshed with humour – it’s not an easy thing to accomplish and can go quite wrong but here I think it’s spot on.  The pace is fast and the action plentiful but there is also respite in between which gives you space to form attachments.

To be honest, I don’t think I can say too much more other than to say if you haven’t read Angus Watson then I implore you to do so.  I love his fantasy.  His stories are highly entertaining, he knows enough about history to make everything feel vaguely familiar and yet he writes in a modern and accessible style.

I can’t wait to read the second instalment of West of West and I have all my fingers and toes crossed that the characters hold their own.  Yep, can’t deny that I’m a bit nervous on their behalf.  It sounds like they’re about to head into seriously dangerous territory (as if the Calnian Empire wasn’t bad enough).

My thanks to the publisher, through Netgalley, for granting me a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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