Zombos Says: Good
So what if they're Vood00-type zombies, Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill attempt to turn the Wild West a wee bit wilder in Dead Reckoning, a novel that moseys down the Nancy Drew-ish trail with its modicum of walking undead pitted against three characters in search of a franchise worthy of a young adult series: a cavalry scout raised by Indians; a young girl gunslinger in male disguise riding her horse Nightingale; and a scientifically-inebriated, emancipated woman riding her steam-powered wagon.
A promising, action-filled start leads to a lengthier, predominantly lukewarm middle, which leads up to an action-filled climax. The authors spend many words on chit-chat when more rough-riding and sidewinding is needed, especially when Jett, the black-clad, silver-studded, gunslinging and gambling southern sister who's looking for her brother, ties one up with the snake oil and brimstone mastermind behind the zombie outbreak. The mastermind's lacklustre explanation of how he creates them doesn't move the story along much, and his leaden backstory intrudes into the suspense that's having trouble building up through fits and starts. For a novel with a lot of zombies, two feisty woman, and one even-tempered man stepping carefully between them, you'd expect more sparks to fly. I recommend the authors watch a few Roy Rogers movies for pointers on sizing up their cowpoke action around the sagebrush humor and campfire lulls. I also recommend they add sagebrush humor. Having Honoria pout and shout and bluster about is not the same thing.
During a stop-over in Alsop, Texas, Jett can't get her drink down fast enough at the local saloon before a bunch of zombies attack the town, wielding weapons! The encounter is mostly bloodless, although everyone in the town is killed. Jett's horse manages to rescue her when she's surrounded. White Fox, the scout, and Honoria Gibbons, the adventurous scientist who wears "rational dress," make Jett's acquaintance when Nightingale rides into their campsite, with Jett barely conscious. They go back to Alsop (although Jett rather gallop in the other direction) and find it deserted except for the town drunk, Finley Maxwell. Honoria sets up her portable laboratory in town while Jett and White Fox go investigating. They come across the Fellowship of the Devine Resurrection, led by one suspicious character named Brother Shepard.
The zombies are more meat-cleaver wielders than meat eaters. They're brought to undead life for a nefarious and clever purpose. Not much of a mystery as to who's doing the zombiefying, but the mystery as to why does provide some suspense in-between the zombie attack on the jailhouse and the town drunk's sudden death and resurrection.
Jett's agenda is mainly to find her brother and get out while the gettin' is good. White Fox's agenda is to follow the trail, as is Honoria's, that leads to the answer of why small towns are going empty and the townsfolk gone missing. Clever touches are sparse but promising if this series kicks into second gear: Honoria uses her rich and eccentric father's vast library like Google to research her troubling findings. Her telegraph skills come in handy as she sends her father the queries and he provides the lengthy answers. She also believes in the power of reason and science to help master any situation, and her rather dangerous steampunk-light vehicle, what she calls an auto tachy-pode, hints at cleverer gadgets to come. There is also Jett's penchant for male clothes and attitudes to provide enough hard-riding gumption while she searches for her brother, who disappeared after the Civil War. Jett's southern leanings and anti-north sentiments can also stand some life-changing growth across a potential series.
Dead Reckoning has all the right ingredients for a tasty sarsaparilla soda, but the carbonation is a tad too flat for my adult taste. I'd reckon you'd have to be a Mennonite-type young adult to find it more than adequate, too. Less backstorying, stronger highs and softer lulls in the action, and a deeper look into what makes Jett, Honoria, and White Fox tick, need be provisioned before Lackey and Edghill saddle up for another adventure.