“The Devil’s Backbone” is a crazy, delightful blend of science fiction, action adventure, psycho-thriller, and epic Western fantasy with some of the best dialogue I’ve read in a while from an indie author. Holy cow, did I enjoy myself on this wild ride! We follow Sadie Bishop, who is recovering from a massive trauma, as she embarks on a dangerous jaunt through the Badlands of a futuristic America. In this world, only Citizens (basically people who pay off all their debts and remain good little worker bees) can reap the benefits of society—good food, medicine, and the best technology the world can offer. Gaskill has crafted a world that felt so natural to where our current society might be headed, and I LOVED the social commentary that was tied to that. He does a great job of presenting it “as is” rather than beating the reader over the head with a message that is best left as a tumultuous undertone to this futuristic land. Anyhoo, Sadie is plagued by something deep in her urging her to forgo the comforts of Citizen life and head out into the treacherous no-man’s land, where those dangerous men and women who lost their Citizenship now scrape by in a new Wild, Wild, West. Why does Sadie feel such a compulsion to go out there? She doesn’t know, but she can’t ignore the call, either. While that point got a little murky as the story progressed, I really can’t say enough good things about Gaskill’s novel!
I usually shy away from Western’s, cowboys just don’t appeal to me. But never fear, there are no such horse riding vigilante’s in “The Devil’s Backbone”. Instead, this wasteland felt more like a Mad Max landscape, with daring escapes via old junker cars and drivers whose sanity is suspect, at best. We are shown an arid world where those in the Badlands are struggling to fight back against the system that has stripped them of their rights because they had debts they couldn’t pay (student loans, anyone?). The world, despite its dystopian feel, felt full and rich. Gaskill clearly spent time figuring out every inch of this futuristic America before sitting down to breathe life into our two main characters, Sadie and Jude, and it shows! That, coupled with the banter between these two women, often left me unable to put this book down. Jude and Sadie have such fun, unique voices, and engage in some of the best and natural feeling dialogue I’ve read, that it became some of my favorite parts of the book. This dialogue holds true to every single character in the book, too. Everyone felt distinct and whole, even if they only occupied a few pages before Sadie and Jude moved on. So kudos for Gaskill for crafting such great characters.
The one thing that got a bit muddled in this action packed ride, was the psycho-thriller aspects of the book. Without spoiling anything, Sadie’s reasons for being out in the Badlands feel a little flimsy, and become pretty coincidental as she starts meeting the people who are entangled with the very reason this force deep within her has inspired her to “go out West”. For as rich as everything else felt, the coincidences stood out, and pulled me out of the story. A few times I literally said, “Well, wasn’t that convenient” with an eye roll. The author even has his characters talk about what great luck it was that they found so-and-so, but just because you call out such instances, doesn’t mean that they are excused. It’s pretty small all things considered, but again, because the characters, world building, dialogue, hell, this BOOK was so strong otherwise, it was disappointing when those coincidences started piling up, especially towards the end.
As this book uses a great deal of adult language, the violence can be pretty graphic, the plot can be a bit hard to follow at times, and the social commentary requires someone a bit older to appreciate it, this book is best for a more mature, and socially aware reader. If there hadn’t been those few instances where the plot got a bit murky with the overabundance of flukes this book would easily be 5 stars, as I loved the world, characters, and their banter just that much. Still, this gets a very strong 4.5 stars instead, and I encourage everyone to give it a read so we can all go on the crazy ride that will assuredly be the sequel! Thank you to the author for providing me a copy for review!
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