Having not read the first Desa Kincaid novel, Desa Kincaid: Bounty Hunter, I jumped into Bullets and Bones: Desa Kincaid Book 2 (henceforth referred to by the shortened monicker of Bullets and Bones), knowing that I have missed the first part of this tale. The story promises to be a sci-fi Western adventure (though personally, it does feel more like a fantasy), so how impenetrable could it be? Unfortunately, as someone who is meeting these characters and being introduced to R.S. Penney’s world for the first time, the answer turned out to be that it is more impenetrable than I had expected or hoped.
While I was only provided this title and not the prequel, I need to judge this title on its own merits, rather than its part in the overall Desa Kincaid series, which I will do my best to do. However, Bullets and Bones drops its readers right into the middle of the action with virtually no additional details about the world, its rules, or its history for those who are discovering it with this novel. I have no doubt that fans of the original Desa Kincaid will be excited to jump right in, but I strongly suggest that anybody who is interested in Bullets and Bones read its predecessor first.
Due to this, I found myself lost for much of the book, which is a shame. Penney’s skill at delivering tight prose is on point, as is the editing. There were no overtly obvious typos in the book, and the text flows beautifully throughout. Bullets and Bones is a finely polished book, and as a result, I found myself enjoying a rollicking adventure with some heart thrown in for good measure. At 444 pages (apparently 584 on Kindle, however, it did not feel anywhere near as long; or 12 hours and 21 minutes for the audiobook), the story is a good length, but still digestible in a few sittings.
However, while the adventure was indeed rollicking, the pace was slow and could have felt faster. Penney writes action sequences brilliantly, making you feel like you’re part of the action. Unfortunately, however, these sequences have a tendency of continuing longer than they should, resulting in a story with a slower pace that feels less exciting and dynamic. The pace is also slowed by the story’s exposition, which does a lot more telling than showing.
Bullets and Bones features a sprawling cast of characters, the majority of whom are well-written and believable, however, Desa Kincaid herself, the novel’s protagonist, feels bland in comparison. Penney has made a point of including a diverse cast, whether it be the characters’ ethnicity or sexuality, and it all comes off naturally. At no point does it feel like diversity for the sake of diversity, and instead, the reader is treated to a living, breathing world.
I do wish, particularly given the focus on diversity, that Penney had given more thought to the use of gendered slurs in his prose. In a number of instances, the prose refers to various female characters as “bitches,” which doesn’t sit well with me. I am happy to concede that this is a matter of personal taste, and these references are coming from Desa, the POV character, and not the author. I am also willing to concede that the prose also calls its male characters “bastards,” but when the prose calls women “bitches” twice as often as it calls men “bastards,” it does feel a little sexist.
There is a lot to enjoy in Bullets and Bones, from fun characters and relationships to a science fiction/fantasy tale in a Western setting, to some great set pieces, to refined prose. But as the set pieces begin to drag, the slow pace, and having needed to have read the first book to understand this one, I can’t consider this a must-buy. If you like your sci-fi to include Jedi instead of Romulans, or if you’re a fan of Westerns and would like something a little different, I have absolutely no doubt that you will find a lot to enjoy in Bullets and Bones. Just make sure you read Desa Kincaid: Bounty Hunter first, lest you find yourself scratching your head.
His eyes turned black. Pure black from corner to corner, like two small pits into the depths of the Abyss itself.
He raised a green hand, and a fireball sparked into existence above his own palm. Drawing back his arm, he threw it at Desa.
She ran toward the oncoming projectile, then dropped to her knees at the last second, allowing the fireball to rush past overhead. It struck the building behind her with a small explosion that sent chunks of stone flying.
“My turn!” Desa said.Bullets and Bones: Desa Kincaid Book 2, Chapter 15
Bullets and Bones: Desa Kincaid Book 2 was provided by the author for the purposes of an honest review.
Bullets and Bones is available in paperback, hardcover and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon), and audiobook via Amazon’s Audible.
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