SPFBO 9 Finalist Review: Cold West by Clayton Snyder

SPFBO 9: Cold West by Clayton Snyder

Welcome to the Final stage of SPFBO 9! As you know, the 10 blogs all picked their champion who advanced into the finals, including ourselves. Check out our SPFBO 9 page for more info! SPFBO 9 ends on April 30th, and so we’ll post our finalist reviews every two weeks or so until then.

Our 8th SPFBO 9 finalist review is for Cold West by Clayton Snyder. The order of the reviews within a post will be in alphabetical order.

A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the Finals: our judges had the freedom to opt out of reading any of the books due to personal interest, time restrictions, unforeseen life events, etc. Our aim is to have at least 4 reviews/scores for each finalist.

Both in the Semi-Final and Final stages we’ll have a DNF rule in place: if a judge reads a book (either semi-finalist or finalist if they didn’t opt out beforehand), they have to read at least 25% of it. If they decide to DNF between 25%-50% they’ll have to give a score but can opt out of writing a review, and if they DNF after 50% (or not) then also have to score AND write a review.

For Cold West we have 4 reviews and 4 scores for your reading pleasures.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our 8th finalist!

Table of Contents

About the Book
Genre:Fantasy, Grimdark, Western
Date of Publishing:February 20, 2020
Book Blurb
Cold west by Clayton Snyder

Bastard. Killer. Husband. Father. His wife cold in the ground, and two young boys to feed, Wil Cutter turns to what he Violence. But a bounty is never just a bounty, and blood is never spilled in drops. Forced to ever more violent acts, he’ll have to ask Is Hell too far to ride?



Read: 100%

I went into this story with some trepidation. Between the very little I’ve read from Snyder – hell, I’m still recovering from that scene with the umbrella thingy in Norylska Groans (co-authored with Michael Fletcher) – and just from the buzz around this book; I knew to expect some dark stuff.

That said, I honestly didn’t find this that dark. Bleak, yes, and definitely violent. But no more so than some of the TV I watch. And really, not much else could beat that scene in NG for dark stuff that sticks with a person, let me tell you.

Cold West is kind of a reverse story – instead of the typical, how a man is saved by love – it’s more an exploration of how his loss of it sends him spiraling back down a path he had previously clawed his way out from.

Wil Cutter, the main POV, is a survivor. A real SOB that does more and more despicable things as the story progresses and he spirals down and let’s just say my sympathy and understanding didn’t carry through my willingness to forgive Wil some of his choices, despite the grief fueling them for very long.

As a story, on the whole the writing is solid. I tend to like fewer words saying what should be said and Cold West was mostly stark short sentences, especially in the beginning, which suited the harsh landscape and even harsher story.

The structure? The unfolding exploration? Or whatever you want to call it had a couple of things that didn’t work for me. For one, the pace was brisk but would stop for what felt like inconsequential things, like a long story from some guy about his time during the war. Or the reading of a chapter of a book.
The chapter reading was especially odd to me. The old soldiers’ story at least worked for world-building but the chapter was like a couple pages worth of the story she was reading to him, and maybe I was just being super dense here and missed the whole point which is totally possible- but I think I would have preferred warm observations of her, while she read the book, to the actual excerpt from the book. That’s just me and way too many romances, no doubt.

 Anyway, personal preferences aside, as an exploration of a man falling further and further away from the person, that people who loved him and helped him to become, I thought Cold West for the most part did a fine job of displaying that side of Wil. This is the one thing I have enjoyed about the two books I’ve read by Clayton, his ability and willingness to pull back those many layers that make up a person at their lowest and their worst and show them to the world.

Cold West may be short and the plot fairly simple but it’s the exploration of Cutter’s grief that fills out the story and packs the punch to the gut.

Other notes

I enjoyed the scenes in the Rift, probably the most, just because I enjoy the ingenuity involved in getting out of a place like that… I mean really, who doesn’t love prison breakouts like Cool Hand Luke, The Rock, or Shawshank. I could have read a lot more of Wil’s time there.

*Again, I feel I must say that I making an attempt at being funny with that reference to NG and not trying to pick on the author, who’s hilariously dark humour on twitter makes me feel he would take it with the humour it’s meant- if he actually reads his books reviews.



Read: 100%

What is Cold West like? Well, it’s kind of like having sand in between your teeth. Not pleasant, but as gritty and badass as Clint Eastwood’s piercing look. And, much more violent. A hell of a lot more violent. The book delivers an old mercenary who knows there will be no redemption or forgiveness for him, and it seems that Karma has circled back to him with the losses he personally endures. Such is life, a circle. But where there’s bounty, there is a mercenary in need.

“Pain’s a poison well, not to be shared unless you expect to kill another’s spirit.”

Leaving the action and the plot points aside – which were delivered at breakneck speed, Snyder really seems to understand the darkest pit of human soul. There is a lot of morally grey area and that will surely divide the camp, but dodgy appetites will be quenched. Wil Cutter is like an open wound, at once aching and lashing out. The book in its entirety will paralyze, if you’ll let it – the memory flashes are almost too painful to bear. But they will set you up for the ending which feels fever dream-like and final.

There’s a saying we all know: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Well. Cold West proves a different point. Ignorance would have been bliss.

With this book, Snyder places the trust in the reader – succinct, sharp sentences with precisely selected words to convey meaning; and the whole setting, the world, the people in it will explode somewhere in the peripheral like a hologram. That is to say, I love it. Cold West is a great example of how a story can be emotionally impactful without needing to break all of the word count laws.



Read: 100%

After reading Demons, Ink a few years back, Clayton Snyder was an author I’d always wanted to read more of but never found the time to dive in. So it’s fair to say that I was buzzing when I saw Cold West was a finalist and that I’d have to read it.

Cold West is a grim and weird western that seamlessly blends the ornery and otherworldly to create something as captivating as it is violent. Despite being a fairly short read at just 150 pages and change, it still manages to deliver a whole character study of its protagonist, Wil Cutter and his fall (or rise, depending on which extreme of the morality scale you’re looking from) from happy family life.

I’ve often remarked that Mr Snyder is an artist when it comes to words, and Cold West does nothing to dispel that assertion. Even with the economy of words a novella demands, Snyder still manages to paint such vivid characters and places thanks to his instinctual understanding of language and scalpel-sharp wit.

The prose is stark yet beautiful and absolutely nails the setting perfectly. It’s dark throughout, but in an exceptionally matter-of-fact way, this bluntness mirroring Cutter and his ‘shit happens’ personality exquisitely.

As is often the case with novellas, my only real criticism is that I wanted more, which, to be honest, isn’t much of a criticism.



Read: 50%

Reviewing Cold West is not an easy task. It probably had a disadvantage from the beginning, because I picked it up right after A Rival Most Vial which I loved and which couldn’t be any different than Cold West. They are literally on the opposite ends of the spectrum between fluffy and grimdark. I can only blame myself, though, as I was the one coming up with a review schedule for the team. Go me. That’s the curse and beauty of judging for SPFBO – you can never know what’s coming next.

Anyway. If you’ve known me from the early days, then you probably know that I used to read quite a lot of grimdark titles, so I’m definitely not against the genre. I moved away from it in the past couple of years, but my dark little heart still craves it sometimes. I’ve known Synder for quite a few years now, but I haven’t read any of his books yet. Was it up to me, I probably wouldn’t have picked Cold West to be my first, though. But that’s life for you.

So, the book. I’ll be honest, I did not enjoy reading Cold West, but then, it probably wasn’t intended to be enjoyable. Even so, 50% was more than enough for me. It’s a short book, so that was still less than 100 pages, and I DNFd books way faster than this. It’s hard to review Cold West because it’s hard to make myself objective. I can see what people say about Synder’s writing style, it definitely has something raw and almost poetic in nature. It needs a bit more refinement and maybe some more attention to the editing, but the potential is there. For me, the story and the characters needed a bit more flesh on them to be engaging. I needed something to be interested in, but Wil Cutter is not a character you’d find likable (and even then, unlikable characters could be interesting/engaging) or particularly interesting. He is not a good man, although he tries for a while, for his family.

The first half of the book felt like Snyder was rushing things a bit to get to the “fun” part of the plot. Things happened fast and the jumps in time sometimes were a bit jarring – Wil has these memories that pop up which is a nice method to build the world, but sometimes it got in the way, and I’d have preferred to focus on the present.

Cold West is bleak. Over the top bleak, for my taste, and that was the main reason I decided to part ways with it. I’m not the right audience, but if you love grimdark, then you might be. I needed something to care about to make me push through the story, and there was nothing here for me.

Our Judgement
Team Queen's Book Asylum's scores for Cold West by Clayton Snyder
Bjorn: X
Jen: 7
Liis: 9
Olivia: X
Paul: 8.5
Timy: 5

Our score for Cold West by Clayton Snyder:

Score 7.5/10

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