I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going into this book. It was pitched to me by a friend as “a western with magic”, but I dove in headfirst anyways, figuring I’ll try anything once.
I could not put The Stone Warrior down.
Having always been a fan of Western novella (I grew up on the works of Max Brand, Will Cook, Lee Hoffman, and the venerable Louis L’Amour) and lighthearted fantasy (think Pratchett, Jacques, and a little Lewis), The Stone Warrior was definitely a fresh way to scratch that particular itch. Not to spoil anything, it takes western tropes that you think you know (the brave little girl on the frontier, the mysterious vigilante with a shadowed past) and spins them in a new way with fantasy tropes you think you know (the aspiring magician, the battle of the wits AND muscle) to create something altogether unique. To paraphrase the great Mark Twain, the trick to creativity is picking enough sources to blend together that nobody can pick the individual bits out, and I think Jolley did just that with this book.
Jolley’s skill isn’t in his clever pick-and-choose genre-defying writing style, though. His real skill is in his ability to immerse you into a world not so unfamiliar as to be unimaginable, but strange enough to be new, exciting, and bizarre. I found myself wanting to know more about every little thing, and the worldbuilding snippets at the beginning of every chapter (ranging from brief snippets of history lessons to in-universe recipes) are an excellent way to take you on a whirlwind tour of the world outside of Marstone while still maintaining the ever-present feeling that anything is possible out here on the frontier.