Just about everyone loves a good western. But when you add in the Steampunk element, the story immediately evolves from the classic exploration of the frontier to a grand tale of adventure and wonder. Given the concurrent timeline of the two genres, their literary compatibility and success is no surprise.
This is where The Good the Bad and the Infernal by Guy Adams comes in. Like the dime novels of the old west era, this book published by Solaris Books has all of the typical trappings of an archetypal western. It has an aging gunslinger, a vagabond preacher, a gang of ruthless outlaws, and an eccentric old man many might consider – well, crazy. All of these people are in search of the mystical town of Wormwood. But when told in separate tales reminiscent of Chaucer’s assortment of travelers in route to the Canterbury Cathedral, the mechanical and magical wonderments of Steampunk turn this story into an epic adventure with no comparison.
The town of Wormwood is legendary. Some believe it is the gateway to heaven. It does not stay in one location. Wormwood moves. Once every century, the town simply turns up. On September 21st, 1889, the town is expected to make its return.
The closer you get to Wormwood, the stranger the world becomes. For the lost bands of souls in search of this paradise, they encounter monstrous animals, predatory towns, armies of mechanical natives, infestations of serpents and other bizarre experiences.
The Good the Bad and the Infernal follows four diverse groups of people with varied reasons for their pilgrimages. Wormwood may be the focus of the journey, but the characters created by Adams are what make this story so compelling. Each journey is told in differing voices and narratives, separating each distinct style as if written by separate authors. Yet, all of their paths intertwine with smooth transitions and a single goal, find the town of Wormwood.
Obeisance Hicks is a flimflamming preacher dealing in snake oils and false optimism. As luck would have it, he is traveling with a freed daughter of slaves named Hope Jane, whose will and determination to survive is a contradiction to the preacher’s normal audience of resignation and disparity. Also riding with this odd pair is the equally unique Soldier Joe, a brain damaged veteran of the Civil War who holds a mysterious link to finding Wormwood.
After Harmonium Jones breaks her husband Henry out of prison, their own journey to Wormwood is blanketed with bizarre turns of events. Accompanied by a gang of misfit circus freaks, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the strange happenings caused by Wormwood and the normal environment of life with this odd collection of characters. Readers might share in the gang’s ironic annoyance to the word “freak.”
Eccentric inventor Lord Forest persuades his similarly talented daughter Elisabeth to search for Wormwood aboard their steam powered trackless train known as the Forest Thunderpack. Joining them is a mysterious assemblage of monks including Father Martin and The Brothers of the Order of Ruth and a phony adventurer turned dime novel writer Roderick (Patrick Irish) Quartershaft who may possess information on the whereabouts of Wormwoods newest location.
Finally we have the young banker Elwyn Wallace who is moving to California to work at his cousin’s bank. After being rescued by an old gunslinger with a dark history, the unlikely pair must battle desperados, mystical creatures and their own demons on their trail to Wormwood.
Wormwood is not Canterbury Cathedral, but the characters in Guy Adams’ The Good the Bad and the Infernal share a similar quality of diverse views of life and faith as those from the 14 century tales. In the end, readers will still be left with many questions about wormwood, no doubt this will be addressed in future installments by the author. But like most successful stories, the true value lies in the journey.