‘The Magpie Coffin’ Is A Gnarly Splatterpunk Take on Westerns
Y’all know by now that I have a huge love for the Western genre. Not so much the early white hat flicks, but the more mature and violent affairs that came later— like Spaghetti Westerns and those less-romanticized revisionist features. Films utilizing the brutality that underpins the idea of the Wild West were always more appealing to me.
Borderline amoral heroes teetering the line of good and evil, tense showdowns that were often solved with trickery as much as they were with skill, big ferocious dinosaurs running amok as intrepid riders attempted to lasso it and… okay, that last one might be a little white hat. Point is, I like my Westerns dipped in violence and colored morally gray.
Gore is also something I have an immense appreciation of, predating my love for Westerns by over a decade. Why do I bring this up? I mean, these two things don’t really have much to do with each other… is what I would say pre-1999, before the (relative) surge of gore-filled Westerns rode our way. Bone Tomahawk, Django Unchained, Ravenous, The Hateful Eight, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter, Mohawk—there’s more than a fistful out there now. Just something about seeing thick clots of blood hitting desert sand as gunsmoke rises to an uncaring azure sky, you know?
Splatterpunk! It’s a punk genre of fiction that focuses less on the spooky atmosphere most horror literature builds up and instead relishes in descriptive, disgusting, depraved scenes of unfiltered, undignified gore — I absolutely love it. Same with the creators at Death’s Head Press, who are currently stitching Splatterpunk together with Westerns to make SPLATTER WESTERNS!
An anthology series of stand-alone books with two things in common — they take place in the Old West and closing them too hard will cause blood to gush out the sides. I was so excited at the prospect that I bought all eleven books at ONCE… about a year ago. Now there are three other books I need to get and I just started reading the ones I have. Better late than never, I reckon.
Speaking of better late than never, let’s finally talk about the first book released in this series, titled — The Magpie Coffin by Wile E. Young!
The Magpie Coffin is in an interesting place, given that it has to set the tone for all the books following it. What kind of series is this going to be? How much Splatter can we expect? How much Western?
Happily, I can say it does both equally and does them equally well! It details the ventures of one Salem Covington — known around his parts as the “Black Magpie” — as he pursues revenge against the cold-blooded killers that murdered his mentor… whose body Salem keeps with him in a coffin as his travels. See? “Magpie,” “coffin,” it’s all fitting into place.
Salem very much falls into the amoral hero archetype I mentioned earlier, going through whatever means necessary to get what he wants, no matter who gets hurt along the way. He’s the “hero”, but only because we’re tagging along on his ride. That said, Salem’s not so much an unreliable narrator (he actually seems pretty honest), he’s just one that doesn’t have any qualms about brutally maiming someone. Added to that, he has an interesting gimmick — he’s a collector! Probably where the whole Magpie moniker comes from. From each of his vict- … “bounties”… he takes something of theirs to remember them by. A personal trinket, a piece of clothing, useful or interesting information, an eye, a scalp, a tongue — some keepsakes are a bit more grisly than others.
Salem — our hero, I remind y’all — PRIDES himself with how creatively he kills people. Unless it’s a mook or some other form of goon, it’s rarely ever quick. Now, I don’t want to spoil every agonizing and hellish death he causes, so I’ll just say that one involves a buffalo poacher finding out that they smell worse on the inside…
However, Salem isn’t the only character in on the fun, just the one narrating it all. Along with him is his murdered mentor, Dead Bear, whose otherworldly presence haunts Salem’s trail to revenge. He’s where the story’s supernatural aspects come from, being a soul trapped in his own carcass, incredibly angry with only a few heavy chains wrapped around his coffin to keep him in check. It’s an interesting take on the undead revenant idea in how he’s not a walking corpse or anything too forward like that. He’s just a dead body that’s able to use some sort of circumstantial magic to manipulate the area around him — whether it’s manifesting a twister or summoning a BLOODTHIRSTY FUCKING BEAR. It’s refreshing, and I really dig it!
Let’s not forget the other supporting characters, such as soldier-turned-reluctant-partner-in-crime Jake Howe, saloon-girl-turned-reluctant-partner-in-crime Ruby Halloway, and a plethora of gore hungry nerdowells that Salem’s crew goes up against — and by “gore hungry”, I mean absolutely sick in some cases. If you’re squeamish, it’s probably best to proceed into this book with caution… though if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this in the first place. You know what? Caution be damned! If you’re squeamish, DEFINITELY read this book. Let’s go!
Now, this novel probably isn’t going to be winning any awards for “deep storytelling” or “tackling the human condition” or any of those things, but it’s not trying to. No — what it wants to do is tell a story about an outlaw that shoots people, takes body parts as prizes, and does magic occasionally. If you ask me, it does that pretty damn well. Y’all won’t leave this book having discovered anything about your innermost self or place in the universe (probably), but you will have an image of a viscera-covered bear tearing through a bunch of ex-confederate sickos occupying your thoughts for a bit. And isn’t that just as good?
Pick up The Magpie Coffin physically here or digitally here.
Until next time…
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