Review: Cold as Hell (Black Badge #1) by Rhett C. Bruno & Jaime Castle

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the West, there are worse things to fear than bandits and outlaws.
Demons. Monsters. Witches. James Crowley’s sacred duty as a Black Badge is to hunt them down and send them packing, banish them from the mortal realm for good.
He didn’t choose this life. No. He didn’t choose life at all.
Shot dead in a gunfight many years ago, now he’s stuck in purgatory, serving the whims of the White Throne to avoid falling to Hell. Not quite undead, though not alive either, the best he can hope for is to work off his penance and fade away.
This time, the White Throne has sent him to investigate a strange bank robbery in Lonely Hill. An outlaw with the ability to conjure ice has frozen and shattered open the bank vault and is now on a spree, robbing the region for all it’s worth.
In his quest to track down the ice-wielder and suss out which demon is behind granting a mortal such power, Crowley finds himself face-to-face with hellish beasts, shapeshifters, and, worse … temptation. But the truth behind the attacks is worse than he ever imagined…
The Witcher meets The Dresden Files in this weird Western series by the Audible number one bestselling duo behind Dead Acre.

📖/🎧 Kindle Whispersync

This popped up on my Facebook feed from a sponsored ad, and I couldn’t get passed how cool the cover looked, and how much the name just popped out at me. Then I saw that Roger Clark, the voice of Arthur Morgan from Red Dead Redemption 2 was narrating it, and I immediately added it to my TBR. Who, by the way, gives an incredible performance. I dabbled in the “weird western” genre once before with a series I DNF’d. It was a few years ago and it just didn’t hit me the way I was hoping it would.
This is a good, fun western story that felt so authentic that I was expecting John Wayne or Clint Eastwood to grace the pages to battle some supernatural creatures.

Cold as Hell is described as The Witcher meets The Dresden Files, I don’t really understand this comp. Now, if you enjoy those, then I think this would be up your alley. I would say it’s more Jonah Hex meets The Dresden Files, where the old west meets the supernatural.
Based on the synopsis and the fact it won the 2022 IPPY Award Gold Medal in Sci-fi/fantasy/Horror category, I was expecting this to be a little darker than it was. Don’t get me wrong, it had some dark elements to it with several supernatural creatures, like nephilim, werewolves, a yeti, skinwalkers, a mind-drifter and demon possession, but I just expected it to be a bit darker than what it was. There is also a bit of racism used, but I thought it was done tactfully while staying true to the theme and authenticity of the old west, and only used by a very hated antagonist.

“But when the sun goes down in the West, and the wolves start their song, it’s hard not to clench a bit tighter on the reins. People aren’t afraid of being alone in the dark. They’re afraid of not being alone in the dark.”

James Crowley, the single POV main character, is an undead former outlaw, now a member of the Black Badge, a supernatural bounty hunter for the White Throne. I really liked this character a lot, he had some complexity to him that showed his humanity. A rough and rugged outlaw, but kinda soft on the inside as well. Like my comp above, Crowley has a very Jonah Hex vibe to him, and because of that, all I could picture the entire time was Josh Brolin. I loved the connection that Crowley has with his horse, Timperina, while not a speaking character, they just have a great bond and I thought the authors did a great job of showing it. Oh yeah, there’s a magical HARMONICA! Yes, you read that right, a magical harmonica! That needed to be said.

Where this suffers the most is not being long enough, not because, I NEED MORE, but because there is a lot of information given that was never really delved into or given any kind of page time. However, there is an audio only novella called Old Acre that may go into some of the details that are missing, and I’ll be reading that soon. One big issue was The White Throne. It is mentioned sporadically, but we literally know nothing about it other than Crowley working for them. The side characters just don’t get enough time either. Dale the bumbling deputy, who reminded me a lot of Don Knotts portrayal of Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith show, is the biggest crime in this. The banter between him and Crowley had me laughing the few times they shared the pages together. Rosa is also a great character who brings a lot to the table, and her introduction was one of the best, as it comes with a special appearance by a couple of horror legends that I thought was a very nice touch. Shargrafein (Shar) is an Angel and Crowley’s handler for The White Throne, the only thing we know about the White Throne. They have a very volatile relationship that would have made for some great dialogue, but like the others, just doesn’t get enough time.

As in a gunfight, it had its hits and it had its misses, but this was a solid start that should be a very fun and hopefully darker series as it progresses along.

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