Vermilion: Magic, vampires, and talking bears in the queer weird west

Vermilion - Molly Tanzer In concept I should love this book: a gender bending psychopomp navigates a dangerous weird west world. Yes please! Unfortunately, the execution left a lot to be desired. First, the bad: It took me a while to put my finger on why this book doesn't work for me. There are a lot of little things that feel off. The way the book is divided into three sections that all have very different focus and pacing. The way 95% of the characters are queer in some way, which should be a huge plus, but instead feels forced. How I'm never quiet certain whether Lou's character isn't cemented enough that I can pin down whether she is constantly making mistakes because she's young, naive, stupid, or all of the above. Or how the book just sort of tapers off and stops without any real satisfying ending. But what really puts the nail in the coffin for me is the tone, or lack thereof. This book lacks a cohesive feel. It jumps from thing to thing without ever having a unifying tone. It doesn't feel like the weird west, or anything else. It just simply is, which is a huge missed opportunity. It just doesn't gel together well, and I think a huge part of that is a lack of cohesive tone. But there is good: I genuinely liked Lou despite not being able to fully pin down who she was. In fact, I liked pretty much all of the characters even though most of them were more sketched in than fully drawn. And I really did appreciate the diversity in gender and sexual expressions, even if they sometimes felt forced. The world had promise, even if it felt a bit kitchensink-esque in how many odd things were thrown in without seeming tied together (that's a big part of the tone issue). The psychopompery was really neat, and I wish we had gotten a lot more of it. I would have loved to read an entire book of just Lou in San Fran working her trade. Overall there were parts of this book where I was genuinely engaged and invested, though there were also parts I felt the urge to skim. It was uneven, but the parts that were good really were good. Can I recommend this book? It really depends on what you want. If you're craving a gritty weird west story with a well drawn world and a central character who is gender non-conforming then I would actually recommend Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen. However, if you want a fantasy set in the west, with a diverse cast, and a very loose mystery, then you might enjoy this one. I'm curious to see if Tanzer can build on what she's set down and polish her craft in future books.