Review: Den of Shadows (Gambler’s Den #1)

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My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

**Thank you so much to HQ Digital for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review**

This book took me a while. At first I was really disappointed by this — after all, despite knowing next to nothing about this novel, I was still pretty excited to read it based solely on its pitch. After all, who doesn’t want to read about a traveling gambling den that exists on a train that promises wild characters and a Western vibe?

Sign. Me. Up.

Cards on the table (no puns intended): I’m a massive fan of the Western. It’s one of those classical American film genres I grew up loving — I even took a Genres course at university that spent a third of the semester just on the evolution of the Western. I try not to consider myself as picky with this genre as I am with, say, Classical Mythology…but, yeah, I’m probably going to be judging on a slightly higher curve when it comes to the Western than I would be with, say, just a generic action-adventure story.

And this book?
It’s alright.

There are some interesting things being done in here, and you won’t hear me say that Byford isn’t adept at atmosphere — he is. His creation of the world of the Gambling Den and its inhabitants is spot-on. The characters may be borderline archetypal in how operatic and “big” they come across at times, but it fits the mood of the world he creates.

Now if only he had a plot that lived up to this atmosphere.

The word that comes to mind is “unfocused.” It’s as if Byford spent so much time creating this world and its inhabitants, he didn’t quite work out what exactly he wanted to do with them, and, as a result, this book plods along with no clear direction. This is, understandably frustrating because, while the atmosphere is good — really good, at times — it’s not enough to keep me from wondering, “So…when’s something going to happen?” It shouldn’t have taken me over three months to finally finish this book.

Perhaps, in the next novel of this (apparent) series, Byford will focus more upon a tightly-constructed plot to complement his interesting world and wild characters.

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