After my SPSFC judging team made our first pass through the 30 books in our first-round allotment, there were a few books that hadn’t really grabbed me but that I was willing to read further to give them more opportunity. And there were a few books that I was excited to get back to. Deston J. Munden’s Dusk Mountain Blues was one of the latter. The first few chapters hadn’t been enough to convince me that it’d be in the running for my favorites list, but they were enough to convince me it’d be plenty fun.
Dusk Mountain Blues follows the Caldwell family, a clan of mutants on the backwater planet of C’dar. They make their living on salvage from long-dead civilizations and the occasional theft from the Bluecoats—an interplanetary military force who has made forays into their part of the galaxy. But when the Bluecoats bring in a force that even the Caldwells can’t match, it threatens not just their way of life, but their entire existence.
The Caldwells are essentially mutant hillbillies, and Munden absolutely nails the dialect, using language that’s easy to follow but readily captures the outsider status of the leads. Throw in the thieving and a few gunfights here and there, and you have a recipe for a rollicking good time. But in having fun with the tale, he does not neglect character work, and Drifter Caldwell, his bear of a son Appetite, and his biracial granddaughter Kindle really come alive over the course of the story—the latter two in particular. Appetite must constantly fight his impulsive tendencies, along with the overprotectiveness and reticence to connect that stems from his wife abandoning him shortly after the birth of their daughter. And the incipient Bluecoat crisis forces Kindle to step out from her father’s massive shadow to come into the fullness of her own powers.
Fun though the read was, I was worried that the Caldwells and Bluecoats were on collision course for a showdown that would turn the last act of the book into an extended action sequence. Perhaps that wouldn’t worry most readers, but I’ve long been on the record as disliking extended action sequences, and this one was no different. I can’t say that it was the wrong choice for the book, but it made it hard for me to really engage with significant portions of the ending. I still had fun with the read overall, but I appreciate a more balanced (or perhaps, differently balanced) sort of tale, and the action-heavy skew in the last quarter of the novel kept it from fully hitting for me. But if hillbilly mutants and lots of fight scenes are your cup of tea, go off and have a blast with Dusk Mountain Blues.
Recommended if you like: heroes from the margins, fun with dialects, gunfights (and various other kinds of fights), solid character work in an action-adventure frame.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Self-Published. It’s probably also a New-to-You Author for most readers, and it could be a Comfort Read, depending on your tastes.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC Score: 7/10 for my personal score. We will await ratings from the remaining judges before releasing an official team score.