This is a review of a book that I got as a pre-publication. This is a truly interesting book that takes place in the land of West Marque which is divided up into sections such as Wood Helm, Shield Gate, Sea Wall, Axegate, and Lang'are. There's also the Eastern Range which no one runs officially as a Lord, though there are sheriffs in the sparse towns that dot the wild area. The religion is that the Giver has provided and created everything. There is a church and a church hierarchy with monasteries. The leader of the realm is the High Marshall who lives in Wood Helm. When they meet there they sit at a round table that was built a thousand years ago by the Great King Avangar I and the grandest seat is held by the High Marshall while the other seats are decorated to fit the occupant of each Lord: Shieldgate, Lang'are, Seawall, Stone Archer, Far Reach, Axefell and one for the Metropolitan, the representative of the Church.
They've come to meet because the Lord of Shieldgate has told the Metropolitan to sent out the Call for the Fifth Wheels to come back to Jonah's Sword, the capital to swear allegiance to the High Marshall. There will be jousting and games and a large festival since this is only done once in a generation. Lord and Lady Shieldgate have their reasons for raising the Call, though. They plan on overthrowing the High Marshall in some way at the festival with the help of the Church, or at least the help of the darker side of the Church, who have a secret society the Church was not able to remove. Lady Shieldgate is not particularly religious but her husband is and while their marriage is a love match she is on her guard against the evil and dark practitioner Bishop Michael who is helping them achieve their goal.
Meanwhile, Fifth Wheel John Gray (A Fifth Wheel is a knight, or in these times now a gunslinger as the story is set in a 19th century setting.) has been chasing for a very long time and is close to catching, a gambler and his wife James Gallant and Lucille, who are in possession of a very valuable book that they must get to their contact in order to collect a huge reward. Now he is being asked to check out the deaths of three Fifth Wheels out in the Eastern Range. A drunkard named Kawfee swears that it is a demon that killed those men because he had caught a glimpse of it when he went down that shortcut himself taking horses through to sell in town. The sheriff, Kawfee, and Gray go up the path and face off against it and it does indeed turn out to be a demon. Kawfee and Gray are the only ones to survive and just barely. Now he needs to kill it before it kills the entire town as it is headed that way and find the dead priest who made it and kill him too.
Each chapter of this book is told through the eyes of certain characters. Some of the other characters are The Dead Priest Quentus who is traveling with his ex-slave Selene with whom they find a young girl who has crossed paths with the evil dead priest that John Gray is interested in. They decided to try and help her; Marcus Dawn the Novice who is a fourth son of a Lord that has been sent to the monastery at Jonah's Sword, the best place to study to become a man of the cloth, which is the last thing the wild young man wants to be and therefore gets himself into more trouble than he bargains for; Lara Mainhouse whose grandfather is the High Marshall and provides insight into the workings of the realm; and The Old Lord-Lord Everisle who provides family background to the High Marshall's family.
This book was a real page-turner. I loved that is was set in the old west style, yet kept the knights and Lords of the realms hierarchy. The places are utterly fascinating and completely different. A desert world, a frozen world and all worlds in between. Some scarier than others. The Church is set up much like the Catholic Church or the Church of England, I suppose and it is a powerful entity in the lives of the people no matter what they believe. The Church has great power and a far reach and it is corrupt. This book has a bit of everything: romance, gunfights, power plays, intrigue, suspense, mystery. And the end has a real cliffhanger that leaves you dying for the next book to come out so you can find out what happens next. I cannot recommend this book enough.