The best dark fantasy Westerns with magic and gunslingers

Who am I?

My life quest has been to find true magic. Once believing it could only be uncovered in ruins or cathedrals continents away, I ended up discovering it in my own backyard under the Big Sky. When I was young, I read everything science fiction and fantasy to feel like that magic was real and bask in worlds far different from my own. Now, as a professional editor and author based in the West… I still read everything science fiction and fantasy, but now I get paid to do it.

I wrote...

I Have Asked to Be Where No Storms Come

By Gwendolyn N. Nix,

Book cover of I Have Asked to Be Where No Storms Come

What is my book about?

The facts of Domino's afterlife are simple: he's a half-breed witch from a people without a name, living out a cursed Butch Cassidy existence… and no one wants to be stuck in Hell with witch blood. When he discovers demonic bounty hunters are on his tail, he is shocked to learn they were hired by his brother. Wicasah, wielding insurmountable power, has struck an ill-made bargain with an ancient being of lighting and thunder to resurrect Domino from his terrible fate. Yet, the two discover an even darker power resides within a fractured United States, one that will stop at nothing to be released. Desperate to escape their own destinies, the two must decide if they will save the world… or let it burn.

The books I picked & why

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The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

Why this book?

Dark americana fantasy at its finest—even though the book worked hard to win me over, that memorable line, “There are more worlds than these,” sunk its teeth in me. It promised a wild west unknown at the time where gunslingers were heroic knights, and a black-robed magician created chaos across the realms. I devoured the series on my lunch breaks in the summer, enraptured with a gritty western that folded like a Doctor Strange multiverse, opening my eyes to that the “wild west” could be so much more when asked, “But what if…?” 

American Hippo: River of Teeth, Taste of Marrow, and New Stories

By Sarah Gailey,

Book cover of American Hippo: River of Teeth, Taste of Marrow, and New Stories

Why this book?

A reimagining of how one decision could change the American landscape… why Thomas Jefferson decided against introducing hippopotamuses to the swamps and marshes of the American South, I’ll never know. But Sarah Gailey gives us a glimpse into this alternative history and it is full of water bearers as fearsome and loyal as any war horse. Reading this in one sitting on a plane ride, I was fascinated by how vastly differentand dangerousthe Mississippi bayous could be when full of a certain shady type of gunslinger creeping through the water with Spanish moss hanging overhead. I suspect if I were alive in this alternative timeline, I might’ve ended up seeking my fortune by holding up a steamboat… especially if I had a hippo as my trusty companion.   

A Book of Tongues

By Gemma Files,

Book cover of A Book of Tongues

Why this book?

A brutal tale set after the Civil War, this setting is as much a character as the morally graysometimes downright black-heartedwitches, gods, and hexslingers roaming within it. I wondered how the author made a book so metal: Old Testament bible verses magicked into savage spellwork, a Mesoamerican goddess roping hanged men into her service, and, of course, a government plot to harness such hexwork for its own expansionist and colonial aims. Different beliefs rub shoulders here in a visceral and refreshing waya slice of the melting pot America still defines itself with, even in a dark fantasy version. Sacrifice is the name of the game here. Just how far should you go for power? For love, even? If you’re a hexslinger, the answer is pretty far.

Six-Gun Snow White

By Catherynne M. Valente, Charlie Bowater (illustrator),

Book cover of Six-Gun Snow White

Why this book?

I read this when my son was born, looking for a familiar story in more ways than one. This imported classic European fairy tale has our gunslinging Snow White escaping to the wild west and feels like a new comfort fable… if replacing dark twisted forests for a wind-whipped big sky can be comforting. It’s a story that doesn’t know how to end, or even if it should endmaking it another facet to join numerous retellings. The Huntsman becomes a Pinkerton, the dwarves now a band of women on the run, and the Prince a melancholy expression of America’s history where many have no voice. It’s a bit cerebral and reveals heart-wrenching lessons when reflected on current times. Which, I suppose, is the purpose of a fable, right?

The Six-Gun Tarot

By R.S. Belcher,

Book cover of The Six-Gun Tarot

Why this book?

A serious Welcome To The Nightvale-styled western, Golgotha is like any other mining town… except full of writhing demonic worms desperate to possess you. So many legends and religions rub elbows in this saloon-heavy godforsaken place that it feels like any re-imagined version of a dark fantasy americana world, warts and all, is possible. Each character threatened to whisk me on a new journey. I mean, there’s a doctor who can keep severed heads alive? A boy with a mysterious green eye? An unkillable gunslinger sheriff? An angel running a casino? An assassin queen? What is even happening? But all this allowed my imagination to flourish. Instead of spelling out the reasoning for the clashing magic and lore, it reminded me why I love speculative fiction in the first place: the possibilities. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

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