Book Review: Frontier, by Grace Curtis

Long time no see! This week, I emerge from the reviewing wilderness to give my thoughts on Frontier by Grace Curtis, one of the first books from the newly formed Hodderscape imprint – you might be familiar with them through social media, where they are an active and cheerful participant. If a futuristic Western sounds like your sort of thing, read on!

This fair and unbiased review was conducted based on a free finished copy of the book, provided for free by the publisher.

From the Waterstones website:

In the distant future, climate change has reduced Earth to a hard-scrabble wasteland. Saints and sinners, lawmakers and sheriffs, gunslingers and horse thieves abound. Folk are as diverse and divided as they’ve ever been – except in their shared suspicions when a stranger comes to town.

One night a ship falls from the sky, bringing the planet’s first visitor in three hundred years. She’s armed, she’s scared . . . and she’s looking for someone.

Frontier is a heartfelt queer romance in a high noon standoff with Earth’s uncertain future, full of love, loss, and laser guns.

Much comparison has already been made, and will probably continue to be made, between Frontier and Firefly; how could there not be, when you have laser guns and a Wild West version of a future Earth? For me, however, it had more in common with the Fallout series of videogames. There’s an offbeat humour to much of this debut, with unusual scenarios popping up like tasks being doled out by colourful NPCs; an early mini-adventure featuring the mystery-shrouded creature known as Garraty (no spoilers here, don’t worry) sets the tone for much of what is to come, hitting beats of comedy, emotion and action with the precision of a metronome.

Our main character (if that’s an accurate term – more on that in a moment) has many names throughout her adventures: The Stranger, the Courier (recalling Fallout: New Vegas, perhaps), The Traveller and more besides. She is a figure who we know little about, and we discover more about her only through her actions and interactions with the loveable characters she comes into contact with. In this respect, she can be compared to the likes of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name or, perhaps even more accurately due to its futuristic dustbowl setting, Mad Max. She is a supporting character in other people’s stories for much of the novel, in proper Western fashion.

There are a number of advantages to this narrative approach, not least its adherence to the old “show, don’t tell” mantra. We get multiple different kinds of stories here, vignettes set within a world that feels recognisable (but still manages to surprise). This keeps everything feeling fresh and imparts it all with a restless and propulsive kind of energy, the linking interludes between each story acting as a reminder that there’s a bigger picture before another story sweeps us off on a new adventure. Curtis’ effortless switching between settings, tones and even genres demonstrates her grasp of style, while her ability to knit all of them together into a really very entertaining and cohesive whole proves her skill as a storyteller. The sample chapter included of what is hopefully her next book is filled with the promise of more adventures on an even grander scale too, something I for one can’t wait for.

With tons of action, plenty of emotional moments, loveable characters and a dash of quirky humour, Frontier marks Grace Curtis out as a writer to watch. This is satisfying and stylish storytelling that I’m very much looking forward to more of.

Frontier is published by the newly formed Hodderscape imprint and comes out in hardback, ebook and audiobook on the 9th of March.

Currently reading: The Mountain in the Sea, Ray Nayler
Currently listening: Heimdal, Enslaved

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