One Night in Sixes by Arianne “Tex” Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I added this book to my To Read list back in 2014 after hearing Ms. Thompson interviewed on Sword and Laser. I had a slightly different impression of what the plot would be – I think the interview focused on the character of TwoBlood – but the story I got was still great. Since I really liked the world Ms. Thompson creates here so much, I want to start with what I didn’t like about the book rather than ending with what I didn’t like. In list notation:
-Although it’s a neat bit of world-building that the plot takes place in a town full of different native tribes, it leads to a LOT of confusion. At least a handful of characters have two names – the equivalent of their native name and their Christian name. They all have different rituals and things going on and it’s a lot more complicated when layered on top of the fact that (view spoiler)
-Lots of POV paragraphs where the characters are either confused about what’s going on or lying to themselves, overly complicating an already complicated plot
-Basically – I read something close to 100 books a year, am a big reader of tvtropes, watch other narrative things like TV and movies. I’m rarely confused about what’s going on except for in detective novels and there were huge chunks where I was like “huh?”
That might sound like a lot, but if you read my reviews, you know I’m not afraid to give 1 and 2 star reviews. I go my Goodreads’ tooltips so a 4-star is “really liked it”. And so let me jump back in to what I loved/enjoyed about this book. A teeny-tiny spoiler is that this book doesn’t take place in the late 1800s America, but an alternate universe America-ish place; namely alt-universe Texas. A bunch of characters speak what is essentially Spanish, but called Marin in the book. Actually, I said this a few times during my status updates, but this is a pretty uniquely Texan novel:
-The main characters are a city-slicker know-it-all who resents being stuck in a podunk town and a farm-hand who he looks down on because he isn’t book-smart. However, despite having a more simple world-view, the farm-hand is very street-smart and almost the only sane man in this story
-The characters in the world are essentially Native “American”, white folk, and mulattoes
-Everyone speaks either English, Spanish, or French – and the ones who interact everyone speak a bit of each. Ms. Thompson spells the words phonetically so you can sound it out and there’s a bit of a Bilingual-Bonus if you speak any of those languages of knowing more about what’s going on than what the characters themselves know.
Despite all the different tribes living in Sixes causing me a lot of confusion, I thought it was pretty awesome how Ms. Thompson creates a world in which they all have to live together and observe each others’ rites, superstitions, etc. This novel is essentially a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense – a lot of it is moved forward by cultural misunderstandings between everyone – tribesmen, people with ulterior motives, the moneyed guy and his farm hand. So the pattern she weaves of this place where everyone is living in uneasy truce is fascinating. She also makes great use of the language barriers in a bunch of scenes where there are both misunderstandings and other issues that happen due to language. It’s quite a realistic world she paints in which no one is really ever in as much control over their situation as they believe they are – except the one person smart enough to realize he’s in over his head.
This was a complex read for me. The front cover of the version I read compares Ms. Thompson favorably to Stephen King. I’ve never read any King, but if they meant stylistically, then maybe it’s just a very different style for me in terms of the certain…elements (I don’t want to spoil at all) and/or the writing style. However, I did end up adding the next book in the trilogy to my to read list so we’ll see how things go. Because if there’s one more potential knock on the book it’s that this does not follow the pattern I’ve usually seen where book 1 of a trilogy finishes a story and then books 2 and 3 are inseparable. This was clearly written as a story that does not end until book 3.
Anyway, if you like westerns, but feel bored by all of them taking place in our real-life history, check this out. It has many of the tropes and subverts some and deconstructs others while making full use of the fact that it takes place in its own world.
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