Book Review: “The Widow’s Son: A Novel of the Weird West” by Ryan Williamson

Weird westerns are so cool, don’t you think? Well, I think so. Cowboys and six shooters and ghosts and horses and vampires and steam engines… yes, there’s something about the marriage of the American southwest and supernatural beings that just produces some very interesting offspring.

Speaking of interesting offspring, that’s what the titular character of this book is. A young woman named Mary Anne O’Sullivan had a child with a supernatural being, and this child was then spirited away by a mysterious witch. Anne’s husband sought the child, but… well, that’s how she became a widow.

Not to be deterred, she asks Zarahemla Two Crows, a Federal lawman who specializes in the occult, to track down her son. But, despite the Marshal’s reservations, she insists on accompanying him. And so, this unlikely duo sets off across a haunted land of vampires, witches, zombies, giant mechanical golem cavalry, and a whole host of interesting characters.

I feel like I don’t need to say any more, and already, you should be hooked. But, just in case you’re not, let me say a little more. I loved this book. The pacing, the characters, the atmosphere; all of it is great. Anne is my favorite character, and I enjoyed seeing her growth over the course of the story. Like Zarahemla himself, we watch her transform from being merely a “confounded woman” into a confident, capable, and relatable character.

One thing I should mention is that the story is chock full of Catholic motifs. Faith is a major theme that informs the characters. This might give some readers pause, but I want to emphasize that this isn’t done in the preachy way that you get in some religious fiction. Rather, the discussions about faith feel like a natural part of the characters’ evolution.

There are also plenty of cool action sequences; big battles, with infantry, airships, and especially those great steampunk cavalry golems I mentioned earlier. How can you not want to read a book that has a scene with zombies attacking a huge spider-tank?

In summary, I really, really enjoyed this novel. It was everything I hoped it would be and then some. If you like westerns at all, and especially weird westerns, you’ve got to check it out.

Oh… and one last thing. There are a number of sly cultural references sprinkled throughout the book. At first, I wasn’t sure if that’s really what these were, or if I was just imagining things. I won’t spoil them for you, but after I read a description of a certain weapon devised in Antioch, I was sure I knew what was going on. These are fun little Easter eggs to discover as you read.


What's your stake in this, cowboy?