Dean F. Wilson (author) and R.C. Bray (audiobook narrator) come together in an exceptionally well-written and produced premiere action-packed western steampunk trilogy titled “The Coilhunter Chronicles”. The audiobook I reviewed was an omnibus edition which included all three of the Coilhunter stories in a single easy to consume set. The three books in series order are: Coilhunter, Rustkiller, and Dustrunner. I am not a huge fan of the western genre, and I do not often go looking for books of this type. However, the author’s summary along with its steampunk elements and R.C. Bray’s narration made me pick it up and give it a listen; I am glad I did. As you will see below, I quickly became a fan of both the writing and quality of narration that I consumed the nearly fourteen hours of audio in a rather short period of time. If you are looking for a new series to start, and even if westerns are not your thing, I highly recommended you give this new series a try.
The stories contained in the omnibus edition can stand on their own. However, there are some recurring characters making appearances across all of the stories. Each book has its own storylines and objectives our main character (Nox) needs to accomplish, and a few times I felt as if I were dropped into a LitRPG book. It should be noted that books two and three of the series would be less enjoyable without first listening to book one. In the first book (Coilhunter), we learn of the Coilhunter’s background, drive, and what makes him who he is as a man. We are shown that even under that tough bounty hunter skin there lies a man who misses his family, is desperate for love, and ultimately wants to see justice served. Prior to the faithful events that changed him forever, this man was a tinkerer, toy maker, and experimenter who loved to make various contraptions. The books are not only entertaining and filled with scenes of action, there were a number of emotional periods when you wanted to reach out and give him a hug or comfort him in some way. At times we see just how broken a man he is and the few friends (or are they) who are by his side wanting to help him along his journey.
At one point in the story we are told he is a drifter, and in some ways, he reminded me of Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) from the TV series “Kung Fu”. Each story in this series was like a new TV show that at times included people from previous episodes yet there was always a central running theme; just like with the Coilhunter. I felt at times that I was watching a steampunk version of “Gunsmoke” blended with parts of “Dirty Harry” or “Dog the Bounty Hunter” sprinkled in. Nox is gruff, to the point, and a loner on the outside. I found it quite curious that our main character was called The Coilhunter when it was clear he was not in it for the money (coils) but instead was a man driven by seeing justice served. Each of the story titles in the series gives you a glimpse into what you can expect, but there are always a few twists and suspense added by the author keeping one guessing along the way. The steampunk and western aspects were well-balanced as I did not feel one over took the other. Each of the stories also had a fair number of weapons, technology, creatures and armor.
Let me say that I felt the writing was descriptive, vibrant, and colorful. At times I felt like I was watching a movie or TV show with my eyes closed. This does not mean that the author left out the core components that make up a story. It was not all eye candy without substance; not at all. There were multidimensional characters, memorable scenes, a deep central plot including a few side plots, plenty of conflict, and each story had its resolution. Again, for someone like myself who is not a big fan of the western genre, I enjoyed the complexity and depth of these stories. Although there is horse riding, gun slinging, adventuring and salooning, the core of these tales could be dropped into nearly any genre and it would be good. I could easily see a science fiction or fantasy setting for our hero; maybe a future series of books? Even with the complexity, the series of books had a fair amount of humor and light-hearted times. I laughed each time a character was introduced as I wondered what witty names the author would come up with. Names such as Lawless Lyle, Flying Feather, and many others litter the landscape in a fun and entertaining way. The subtle first letter of both parts of a nickname were the same. If there was one thing I would have changed, it would have been the titles of the chapters. These seemed to be less throughout and did not fit the overall complexity of the other story components. If this is my main complaint, I have to say that the author has done well for his first published work on Audible.
Let me say that I have always been a fan of books narrated by R.C. Bray. Of the over three-hundred he has already narrated, at the time of this review, I listened to a number of them solely because he has brought life to those he has worked on. Mr. Bray is great at enhancing an already good story and not overdoing it on the audio side. As with his other works I have listened too, this one was professionally produced and narrated. He does a good job of distinguishing the various characters and giving them each distinct characteristics. There were no issues with the audio itself; it contained no background noises or other artifacts. Volume was consistent which flowed from both chapter-to-chapter and even book-to-book, it was smooth and normalized. Simply what I have come to expect from works by R.C. Bray was in this audiobook as well.
For parents or younger listeners, I do not recall any use of vulgar language and apart from some light more mature topics (saloons, alcohol, and prostitution), the book really could be easily enjoyed by a younger person. There is some graphic violence and limited romance, but it is nothing that I would not expect in this genre of book.
In summary, I think this is a very strong series for the first one written by the author. It was very smart to have the audiobook performed by R.C. Bray due to his reputation of performing good books while enhancing them in ways he is quite skilled at. If you are a western steampunk fan, I’m sure you have already listened to this series. If not, you may be looking for more in the genre after finishing this one. I recommend you go out and pick this one up. It is entertaining and can be enjoyed in short stints or even during long drives.