Devils Unto Dust — Emma Berquist (ARC Review)

Devils Unto Dust

 

TITLE: Devils Unto Dust

AUTHOR: Emma Berquist

RELEASES: April 10th, 2018; Greenwillow

GENRE: Western/Horror

AGE RANGE: YA

SYNOPSIS: Ten years ago, a horrifying disease began spreading across the West Texas desert. Infected people—shakes—attacked the living and created havoc and destruction. No one has ever survived the infection. Daisy Wilcox, known as Willie, has been protecting her siblings within the relatively safe walls of Glory, Texas. When Willie’s good-for-nothing father steals a fortune from one of the most dangerous shake-hunters in town, she finds herself on the hook for his debt. With two hunters, including the gruff and handsome Ben, to accompany her, she sets out across the desert in search of her father. But the desert is not kind to travelers, and not everyone will pass through alive.

Western meets horror for this riveting story about survival, family, and inner strength. Tense, short chapters propel readers from one action-packed scene to the next, while Willie’s distinctive, introspective voice deepens the emotional stakes with every turn of the page. High concept and character-driven, Emma Berquist’s debut will satisfy fans of The Magnificent Seven, Rae Carson’s Walk on Earth a Stranger, and HBO’s Westworld.

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The desert is still, no sign of movement, not even dust. But it’s a calm stillness, ancient and unchanging. The desert was here before us, and it will be here long after, watchful and patent and unmoved.

I’m a total sucker for “infection” horror stories—if you’re unfamiliar, they’re plots with creatures similar to zombies but not quite there—and when I heard about this western-horror mashup, it caught my interest right away. I don’t read many westerns, but I like them from time to time, and I have to say that this one was truly an enjoyable read. If you’re not comfortable with strong horror in books, this was probably 70% western and 30% horror, and despite a few gruesome moments, I think it would be a good read for anyone who doesn’t like their stories overly spooky.

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If I could, I would turn my back on this town and start walking, leaving behind the unbearable weight. But I know better than that; the desert may have my heart, but this town will take my bones.

The first thing I noticed about Devils Unto Dust is that it is a phenomenally atmospheric read. As someone from the east coast, the desert of the southwest is something I’ve only witnessed once in my life, so it’s foreign enough to me that I’m always attracted to it as a setting. Emma Berquist’s descriptions are so spot on, I felt like I was right there in the dirt and sand with Willie and her posse.

No one will hold my hand, no one will weep over my body. Maybe we get the deaths we deserve.

Willie is a really enjoyable narrator; she’s tough as nails because she has to be, and the maternal aspect of her fierce protectiveness over her younger siblings immediately made me fond of her. She’s quick-tongued and a little rude at times, but never unlikable, and her responses always felt authentic and reasonable. The sibling relationships she had with her brother Micah, and the twins Catherine and Calvin, were so absolutely precious and checked every last one of my checkboxes for lovable bookish families.

“And I already had to make my peace with you dying. I ain’t interested in doing it again.”

Willie and her brother Micah also travel with Micah’s friend Sam, who is precious and sweet, and the Garretts brothers, Curtis and Ben, who I loved to pieces. Curtis is in his late twenties or early thirties, and is such a sweet, tenderhearted “big brother” sort of character, while Ben is the quintessential angsty, brooding young man with a teddy bear heart hidden behind his scowl. I genuinely loved all four of the primary side characters in this book, and wouldn’t have minded learning more to each one’s history. (I also appreciated the fact that the “romance” in this book is so incredibly understated and subtle, it’s barely there at all, which is a nice rarity in YA books!)

Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe this is what humans are truly like, when you take away reason and control and hope. Maybe the shakes aren’t sick; maybe they’re just honest.

Finally, the “shakes” (or the zombies/infected, if you will) are done fairly enough, but they were probably the only thing I didn’t care much for in the book. They never felt scary or threatening enough to really convince me that I should be concerned, until the very end of the book, so I kept feeling like they were just a little too mild. There were some hints dropped that the government had all but abandoned the towns in Willie’s area, and I would’ve really liked more information about that and how the sickness originated. While the shakes weren’t a bad addition, I would definitely not market this as an “infection” book nearly as strongly as I would market it as a suspenseful YA western.

All we have are bad options, and you pick the one you can live with.

All in all, this wasn’t a perfect book, but I did enjoy it tremendously. I read most of it in one day, as once I hit the 30-40% mark, the suspense caught me enough that I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the characters, and they are fleshed out enough that when tragedy struck one of them (no spoilers!), I was actually rather devastated and shed a few tears. If you enjoy westerns, or especially if you’re looking for a “light” horror read, I would highly recommend giving this book a try!

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Greenwillow for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

4flowers

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Just a 26-year-old trying to juggle motherhood, grad school, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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