Bit of a disclaimer, the author is a friend of mine and I received this book as a backer reward for its Kickstarter campaign. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Grimluk is an orc with one purpose: hunting demons.
For the past month, Grimluk has traveled with his newly adopted sister, Gwen Quinn. Grimluk hopes to find the cause and cure for the prophetic spirit trapped in Gwen. The journey isn’t without its perils though. Near dark one evening, an angry and monstrous apparition attacks them, nearly crushing Grimluk under its enormous spiritual weight. It demands one thing; to be taken home.
The thing leads them to a town called Perfection. A man known as the Hanging Judge runs the town, holding tight to law and order. Almost immediately, Grimluk is arrested, charged with kidnapping and murder. The Judge takes Gwen and imprisons Grimluk. Trapped and separated, the pair learn all too quickly that something else haunts the town besides a ghost. And the only escape might be at the end of a rope.
Generally, I’m not a huge fan of Western novels and Demon Haunted is every inch a Weird Western, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. You have a demon hunting Orc, this huge scary looking guy, that basically has a marshmallow underbelly. He travels the Wastelands looking for jobs to do, clearing small frontier towns of demons and other nasty entities, encountering other interesting characters along the way. The world of the Grimluk series is similar to a typical Western setting except it’s populated not only by humans but also by all sorts of Fantasy creatures – Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Demons, Spirits, etc. It’s quite a fun mashup.
I liked the first book, but man, this one felt like such a huge improvement. There was more action, more depth to the characters, better pacing, and more world-building. Really, just more and better everything without losing any of core of what’s at the heart of a Western — a simple story about a gunslinger and his battles with evil doers.
Let’s start with the characters. We’re following Grimluk as he travels across the desert, now with a little girl (he had promised to look out for her after her parents death) in tow. Having Gwen along, a precocious seven year old, we get to see a whole other side to Grimluk — much more of that marshmallow underbelly but also his sense of loyalty and protectiveness, but also his self-doubts about being able to care for such a small child without messing up somehow.
Not to mention Gwen herself is such a fun character. She’s smart as a whip, but also still very much a child. She misses her parents and spends a lot of the book coming to terms with that while also bonding with her new family (Grimluk refers to her his little sister) and dealing with her growing power over spirits. Honestly, Gwen kind of stole the show for me. I’d happily read The Further Adventures of Gwen: Spirit Tamer. (That’s not a thing. But maybe it should be. Hint, hint.)
One of the things I liked most about this is that we get to see where Grimluk comes from and meet his family. Grimluk’s parents are awesome and it’s clear where he’s got his sense of justice and honor from. It’s refreshing to have a positive family atmosphere for sure and I loved their interactions with one another. Also, with the addition of Gwen and some other family friends it’s a bit of a family/found family combo, which I really loved.
We get to learn a little bit more about the Wastelands and the greater world in this sequel as well. The world-building is really taking shape, but I like the way it stays mostly in the background because we only really need to know what’s relevant to the story at hand, too much would be an information overload. I feel like there’s a lot more magic in this one as well. We have people getting healed magically, items being enchanted, curses, spirits…there’s plenty of fantasy for any fan of the genre.
Overall, I really enjoyed Demon Haunted and I’ll definitely be reading the next one once it comes out. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes Westerns or Weird Westerns or fast-paced adventure fantasy. 4/5 stars.