Some people like Westerns, some like Dungeons & Dragons. With the new book from Oneshi Press, “War & Horses”, you can have both. A pulp-fiction style cowboy book in a setting unlike most fantasy stories, put on your gun belt and get ready for a bumpy ride!
Written by Peter Lampasona with illustrations by Chris Covelli and Jayel Draco, this spaghetti Western is the second book in the “Children of Gaia” series. It takes place in a vast world named Rendaraia, where magic and fantasy intercede with cowboys and revolvers in a setting that will remind fans a bit of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” and maybe even a little of some Clint Eastwood movies you may have seen. This installment of the series occurs in the Republic of Draven, a part of this world that is rife with political conflict as old ideals and new clash, and a civil war may be on the verge of erupting due to famine and drought. Told through the eyes of journalist Landon Ford, we learn about a man simply referred to as The Rustler, who later earns a different name through some trial and tribulations. The end of that dusty road leads us down another, and merely opens up this series in ways that I look forward to reading more about in the future.
Full disclosure, I had not read volume one before jumping into this one, and you really don’t need to. The first volume seems to be an art book, titled “The Great Nations of Rendaraia“, and seems to be more of a visual encyclopedia of the world this series takes place in. There is also a comic, but again, it doesn’t seem to be required reading as these currently feel like stand-alone books that all happen in the same setting.
What makes “War & Horses” especially unique is the format of the book. It is meant to harken back to dime novels of that era, which already make it stand out. Compound that with the book being layers of a story within story make it even more intriguing. The tale is told through the eyes of a reporter for a fictional newspaper from this fictional world, so it turns into this interesting way of telling a story that pulls you in deeper and deeper as you dive deeper. Stories told from a biased POV of a reporter is nothing new, but the homage to paperbacks of an actual era combined with this special world it takes place in are what make it so fascinating.
Author Peter Lampasona is a craftsman with words, and paints a picture on par with the illustrations in the book. In a book that is essentially episodic reportage, Lampasona offers a unique pace and sense of timing into each chapter that adds to the events of that particular segment. The artwork by Chris Covelli and Jayel Draco add an additional layer into the book, and reminded me of the illustrated novels I used to read growing up as a kid. Using your imagination is one thing, but having a point of reference into a world like this makes it feel more cinematic. Many of the illustrations feel historic, looking like daguerreotype photos from the 1800’s, or Wanted posters we are all familiar with from any Cowboy TV show or movie. It put things into context, and reminds you of the journalistic nature of this book.
The illustrations marry with the writing particularly during the action scenes of the book, where it almost turns into an amalgamation of comic book and prose. Lampasona has experience in several martial arts, and brought that knowledge with him on his trip to Draven. It doesn’t read like an instructional or play-by-play commentary in a UFC fight, but instead reads like a journalist dramatically recalling an epic showdown with sequential art to help you fill in the blanks. One of the elements Oneshi Press has been promoting with this book is the realism of the fights, and they definitely feel grounded in reality and are nonetheless enthralling.
“War & Horses” is an easy read, but only in the sense of the page count. What makes it easy to not want to put down is the pacing and storytelling, the visuals (both illustrated and written), and wanting to see what twists and turns would happen to The Rustler and the people he encounters. The book ends with a list of other books by Landon Ford, but I want to know what book is actually next in the “Children of Gaia” series so I can see where this world goes. I especially want to see how much fantasy is part of Rendaraia, since that was the one element I wished there was more of here. As the universe of these books reveal itself in the coming editions, I hope we see more of the mystical and fantastic aspects of it, as I really want to see what Lampasona can do with them. Imagine it – cowboy elves, ogres with shotgun and derby hats – this stuff practically writes itself!
“War & Horses” is a solid starting point for what should be a long journey through a unique landscape, and I recommend checking it out if you love a good Cowboy story with a little bit of mysteriousness peppered in along the way. If this is just the beginning of what we should expect from this series, I can’t wait to read what happens next.