- Nikky Lee
Book Review: No Land For Heros by Cal Black
Title: No Land For Heroes (Legends & Legacies #1)
Author: Cal Black
Publisher: Bearberry Studio (self published)
Page Count: 374
Rep: Non-binary character
Mildred Berry is down to her last four bullets…
In a wild west where the only things more dangerous than outlaws are dragons, Deputy Berry is struggling to protect her town and keep her family fed. As a last resort, she robs a train for ammunition only to find that the cargo she needs so badly was owned by war hero Frederic Rousseau.
The same Frederic Rousseau whom she served during the Amelior Civil War. The same Frederic Rousseau she’s been hiding from for the last five years.
Millie knows a secret that could ruin Rousseau’s life, and he’ll stop at nothing to keep her from telling the truth. With her violent past bearing down on the life she’s built for herself, Millie has to decide how far she’ll be willing to go to keep her town safe.
Imagine the traditional fantasy races and monsters of our fantasy forebears—elves, orcs, dragons and whatnot—transposed from their traditional European, pre-industrialised setting, and placed in a fictional Wild West. Only you don’t have to imagine it. No Land For Heroes does exactly that.
Our protagonist, Mildred Berry, is an elf trying her best to forget a dark past and her role in the nation’s recent civil war. She’s found sanctuary in a small, but dying, frontier town where she is now raising her two daughters. However, when she and her friends rob a train to save their town, they unwittingly attract more attention than they bargained for.
While this book is pacey with plenty of action, it’s well balanced with character—from Mildred’s arc as she learns to face her demons to Jed, one of the (several) antagonists, who we see struggling under the burden of family duty. I particularly loved how Mildred’s PTSD and past trauma was handled, particularly towards the end of the story. It’s also worth noting that while the cast is large, each member is distinctly individual and with no confusion as to who is who, which is an impressive feat from Black in and of itself. That said, by the end, some of the characters didn’t feel as fully realised as the rest. But without giving away spoilers, I’m left with the distinct impression these characters and their stories will be explored in subsequent sequels.
The wild west world building was also another feature I really enjoyed from the wildlife to the mix of magic and lore with early industrial tech (pistols, trains, explosives, etc). We also get glimpses into a couple of religions and tantalising hints of a much bigger world beyond the frontier towns. It’s also worth mentioning this is not so much an alternative history story but an entirely separate fantasy world experiencing its industrial age. That said, the one area that troubled me was seeing the elves' taking the place of Native Americans in the story, with strong culture coding such as living in teepees, wearing moccasins, wielding tomahawks and magic connected to healing and animals (that we’ve seen so far). Perhaps there is a valid reason for the elves’ appropriation of this culture that will come, but as of book one, it was a little jarring.
In all, No Land For Heroes is a terrific swashbuckling ride full of adventure, daring and a fierce momma bear who really shouldn’t be crossed (or underestimated for that matter!). I’m excited to see what’s next for Millie and co and where the threads of this first instalment lead.