Author: Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant
Mood: If you don’t value your own time in any way and you only read massive books so you can brag about their girth, or you have really bad insomnia and need a book that could knock you out cold either by its terrible storytelling or by dropping it on your head.
It took me over a month to read Unicorn Western: Full Saga. A F*CKING MONTH. That’s a long time.
TONS of things happened in that time. Christmas happened. 2020 began. I got a raise. Vancouver was hit with Snowmageddon. My horse got sick, then he got better. And through it all, I was slogging through this book.
I thought it would be a literary version of the game Smash Up – mashing two awesome genres into one epic adventure. And I didn’t just buy the first volume – I had such high hopes that I splurged on the full nine ‘books’ in one painfully huge paperback.
I genuinely wish I could go back in time and punch myself in the ovaries to stop that decision.
After wading through this mentally and physically tedious book, I have a newfound appreciation for brevity. TL;DR: it’s not a good Western, or a good fantasy, or a good anything – don’t read it.
Unicorn Western: Full Saga is the brainchild of podcasters/authors Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. Someone said they couldn’t write a Western, and they wanted to prove a point by weaving the most epic Western fantasy imaginable.
Instead, they somehow took great Western plots that had already been done, drowned them in hollow fantasy and sci-fi characters, and choked what was left with way too many pop culture references – and then had the audacity to compare the whole thing to Harry Potter.
Actual quote from the intro:
“While each book can be read independently of the others, it wouldn’t make as much sense, in much the same way that you could read The Prisoner of Azkaban or The Deathly Hallows in isolation and enjoy those books tremendously, but they would be nowhere near as wonderful if you read them as the third and seventh book in a wonderful series.”
If you found that to be A) a run-on sentence, B) pretentious, and C) distractingly repetitive for using ‘wonderful’ twice… that’s the voice of EVERY F*CKING CHAPTER in Unicorn Western.
The hero is a Marshal with a three-part name that are all nods to something else:
- Clint (as in Eastwood)
- Augustus (as in Augustus McCrae of Lonesome Dove?)
- Gulliver (as in Gulliver’s Travels, the fantasy-satire-parable to which Unicorn Western obviously hopes to draw comparisons).
Clint is a gunslinger in The Sands, exiled from The Realm with his lifelong partner in law enforcement, a smart-mouthed unicorn named Edward.
Clint is about to get hitched, but gets word that an old nemesis is coming to town to kill him. His betrothed, Mai, begs him to leave before the nemesis and accompanying ‘dark rider’ (like Stephen King’s ‘Man in Black’ from the Dark Tower) arrives. Clint refuses, because, you know, duty.
It’s actually a fun concept – it’s just poorly executed, and the rest of each mini-story doesn’t live up to the cool setup. The quests Clint and Edward undertake feel pointless, because the ‘mission’ is constantly changing, characters are trotted in and out before you can connect with them, and the overarching story makes NO SENSE.
I couldn’t care about Clint or Edward as protagonists, because they’re always ignoring their purpose to do something else that seems to exist only for another movie tie-in. It was like a month-long conversation that was just a series of tangents and never answered your f*cking question.
Clint comes across as bad at his job, and Edward seems like a giant dick for withholding basically the entire point of the story (which I still don’t get) from someone to whom he is supposedly bonded for eternity. Clint has zero depth or character growth from start to finish. Whatever. Edward was my giant disappointment.
He’s a F*CKING UNICORN, in a Western! I loved the idea of a sarcastic, arrogant unicorn companion to a gunslinger. It’s another great concept that I felt just didn’t pan out. Ok, we get it, he thinks Clint is ugly and inferior – give him some other engaging traits, even ‘bad’ ones. But he’s not hilarious, he’s not brilliant, and he’s not even really likeable.
Mai spends most of the book being referred to (often multiple times on a single page) as a ‘husk’. There’s no chemistry between Clint and Mai in the early chapters, so it makes the rest of the story about his quest for her fall flat. In the final volume there’s suddenly genuine emotion on his part, but it’s too little too late.
Although Unicorn Western is grammatically sound, I struggled with what the writing did (or failed to do):
- Although they created some fun colloquialisms, much of the dialogue sounds too polished – more like authors writing descriptive passages than how their characters would actually speak
- So many words and phrases are repeated on each page to no purpose, and so many scenes feel like filler; the whole thing could have been significantly shorter
- The insane number of pop-culture references is too much for a story that’s already burdened with multiple half-assed genres; Easter eggs are fun because they’re special and rare – not being funnelled down your throat like a tapped keg
There are times where Unicorn Western is good. There’s an underlying message about destroying the planet for superficial needs. And I DID enjoy the Family Stone jokes through the entire series, including Sly, Oliver, and Emma. Sly Stone was actually my favourite character.
Unfortunately, the series tries way too hard to be way too many things – and ends up doing none well. The fantasy elements aren’t amazing fantasy. The Western elements aren’t solid Western material. It reminds me of this Chinese/Mexican/Pizza restaurant in the small town where I was born. Nobody went there, because you just know they didn’t make good Chinese, good Mexican, OR good pizza.
And there’s no way in hell you could enjoy or even comprehend these books individually. The plot needs CONSTANT explaining, usually in long-winded monologues by Edward or sometimes-bad guy Dharma Kold (again, this doesn’t read like words people would actually speak). Or characters will suddenly remember something they were told, which the reader never knew, and that’s supposed to explain everything you read to that point.
I plowed through the last 150 pages yesterday after work, because I was so desperate to finish and move on to something else. I’M FREE! And I still couldn’t tell you what Unicorn Western was about.