Sunday, September 18, 2022

No Land for Heroes by Cal Black: review

2/5 stars on Goodreads

No Land for Heroes by Cal Black

No Land for Heroes is a Western fantasy set in a world much like post-Civil War US, with elves, dragons, and other non-human people. It has a solid plot at its core. Milly Berry, an elf, is a veteran of a civil war. She’s done some questionable things during the war and is badly traumatised. Now she only wants to live in peace in an out-of-the map town as its deputy. But her former commander and the source of much of her trauma finds her and she must defend herself, her family, and friends.

The book didn’t settle with the core story though. There were several point-of-view characters with their own stories that didn’t contribute to the plot (I’m looking at you Jeb). Gilbert, the love interest, sort of had a backstory that mattered, but he was made to sit out the part that concerned him. It created a very messy story that left the reader feeling let down for investing in the unimportant characters. Added to that were confusing details, like Milly having twins, only for it to turn out one was adopted, but only after a conversation that made me think less of her people. No explanation was given why, even though we did learn who the mother of the other child was.

Characters were unlikeable and their interactions odd. Milly with her traumas was the only one worth following. Gilbert was a jerk who kept propositioning women ‘for good fun’ and passing judgement on everyone he met. I wouldn’t have chosen him as the love interest, but luckily that part of the story was at minimum and unromantic anyway. Jeb, for all that his story was an add on, was the only one who felt like a real person.

My biggest issue was with the worldbuilding. It was basically a Western setting, a frontier town in a world that was recovering from a civil war to free slaves. The core plot fit that setting, and would’ve worked fine in real world too. The fantasy elements didn’t feel integral to the world or the story. The dragon existed solely as a gimmick that had to be killed in the end, and the magic was mostly to heal wounds that weren’t even life-threatening. Religions were derivative and glued on, and the non-human people had no real purpose except to exist as oddities.

The worst thing by far, however, was replacing the Native Americans with elves. When the world is so obviously based on ours, replacing an integral part of it with fantasy creatures who then appropriate the entire culture with tomahawks, tipis, and mohawks stood out like a sore spot. I’m not an indigenous person, but even I found it really upsetting. If you want elves, give them their own culture. Black people too were replaced by orcs who worked as servants and were referred to by their grey skin. I was slow to figure that one out though. And why does the banker family in a fantasy world have Jewish names and their own special religion, Carpenter, by which theyre constantly referred to?

All in all, this was a mess that could’ve used a sensitivity reader and heavy editing. But if you like Westerns with a strong female lead and can ignore the fantasy elements, then this is for you.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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