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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The Nettle Tree is an anthology of Western-inspired short stories edited by Kenneth Weene and Clayton Clifford Bye. The authors were presented with a challenge: create an original and different Western-themed story in 3,000 words of less. Thirteen writers' efforts are showcased in this volume, including the work of the two editors. After each story, a brief biography of, and links for, the author are given. What is it with the Wild West that conjures up so many daydreams and imaginative rides into the sunset, even for those who never really cared that much for the genre? For some, it's the endless vistas and open spaces; for others, the thrill and danger of measuring oneself up against a tall stranger who's new in town and reputed to be the fastest gun out there. The Nettle Tree's authors share Western visions that are not the stuff of your everyday frontier mentality. Zombies, mages, the trickster, and all manner of odd and unexpected treats await the reader.
The authors of The Nettle Tree had a challenging assignment indeed, to breathe new and strange life into a genre that all but the enthusiast may consider a bit overrated, trivialized or overdone, and they did so brilliantly. While my taste in Western fiction runs more in the lines of prospectors trudging through deserts looking for mythical gold caches and scouts surveying new lands, I found a number of stories in this collection that had me re-evaluating the Western and its possibilities. Phil Richardson's The Sheriff of Hog Waller is clever and convincing as outlaws, the townspeople, and the law conspire to make a killing off the bounty system. Christopher Wolf's zombie story, Tears on the Prairie, is poignant and intense. But I would have to say the title story, The Nettle Tree, with its transporting energy fields, captured my imagination and kept it close at hand throughout the story, and Leigh M. Lane's trickster in Valley of the Shadow deftly ramped up the suspense and atmosphere. There's bound to be something for just about any reader in this collection of original short stories. The Nettle Tree is most highly recommended.