What happens when a lone hired gun ends up responsible for a trio of children who have lost everything and want revenge? The Serpent’s Head by Bryan Young is a science-fiction western that asks not only that but so much more in a enjoyable and fun novel that will keep readers turning the page.
The gunslinger known as Twelve comes to the planet of Glycon-Prime looking for work but instead of finding any he stumbles upon Nine Mine City. It’s your typical frontier town except for one thing: the entire city has been massacred leaving three children as the only survivors. Twelve soon finds himself caught up in the children’s quest not only for revenge but to rescue Miri, the only other survivor, from the mutant Glicks.
Bryan Young has a talent for writing science fiction and he definitely has a talent for the space Western. We may not ever leave Glycon-Prime but that hardly stops the book from qualifying. His talent for both are readily evident in The Serpent’s Head. It reminds me of both Firefly and The Last Gunslinger in the best ways but remains firmly its own tale. The basic plotline is relatively simple– long gunslinger helps kids rescue another kid from the bad guys but the characters and the world in which Young sets the story make it so much more.
Glycon-Prime plays it straight a fair amount with what one would expect of a colonized frontier planet but still offers surprises in a few ways. The first is with how the attacked city was settled by Arabic immigrants originally from Earth years ago. I don’t think that this is something I’ve ever seen done before and it brings some diversity to what could have otherwise been a pasty white book. It’s also done so respectfully without any cultural aspects being exploited. The second is with the Glicks. The Glicks are humans who mutated as a side effect of the planet terraforming and now have features that more resemble snakes than humans. Their creepy and their leaders, Guerrero and Santa Madre, are downright unnerving to say the least.
One of the strongest appeals of the book is its characters. Twelve is just mysterious enough to make a reader curious but has enough of a personality to allow readers to not dwell upon the backstory. The four kids (Miri, Nik, Amir, and Lila) are each distinct personalities and offer so much to the story than plot devices. The internal strength that Nik, Amir, and Lila all display in the wake of everyone they know being brutally murdered is incredibly. At the same time though, Young never forgets that they are all children and allows them to act as much. (We’ll get back to Miri.) Even Zeke, the AI in Twelve’s wrist device, has personality and entertains with its backtalk to its owner.
The real character standout for me was Miri. It would have been so easy for her to just be the metaphorical princess in a tower or for her to become the ‘strong female character’ stereotype. This does now, however, stop her from having both an inner strength that helps her survive being Santa Madre’s prisoner and nor does it stop her from being terrified about what might happen to her. She is well rounded and well written and I put the book down after the final page wanting to know even more about her.
I give The Serpent’s Head a 4/5 along with a recommendation especially if you’re a fan of the genre.
Thank you to Silence in the Library for providing a copy of the book for review purposes.