The Wild East: Drunk on Power by James Hunter
James Hunter’s The Wild East: Drunk on Power begins the story of 21 year old Dustin Trent, a young man coming of age in the post-Civil War town of East, Texas. In Dustin’s world there exist a range of special powers bestowed upon certain individuals. These powers are called “vices” and are activated by the use of a specific substance, such as sage root, seawater, Rattlesnake venom, or in Dustin’s case, alcohol. Those born with these special abilities are encouraged to make use of them, and join up with either the Rangers, or the Vice Lords. The Vice Lords, a group of feared vice-wielding criminals, hold Dustin’s town of East in a reign of terror. All citizens of East must pay fealty to this group in exchange for “protection” from crime and vandalism. Opposed to the Vice Lords are the benevolent Rangers, another group of men with vices. Instead of striking fear and hate in those under their protection, the Rangers have been trying to eradicate the Vice Lords for as long as history can remember. As the story unfolds, we learn that Dustin lives with his adopted parents, Dalton and June, proprietors of the Sunrise Saloon. Dustin never knew his biological parents, a fact which has haunted him into adulthood, nor has he ever been told the true story of his orphaning. However, when Dalton and June decide it’s time for Dustin learn who he really is, the knowledge launches Dustin into a new world full of peril, evil, beauty – and the discovery of his own, quite powerful, vice. The consumption of alcohol gives Dustin superhuman strength and agility, and also doubles as a cure-all, completely healing Dustin of any injuries no matter the severity. We discover that the more alcohol Dustin drinks, the more acute his powers become. This is complicated by the fact that Dustin begins to use alcohol as a crutch for processing and dealing with his deep emotional wounds.
Pushing past the bounds of a conventional historical/fantasy novel, Hunter delves into the nuanced complications of addiction and the delicate balance of friendship and patriotic duty. The focus on the moral complexities of Dustin’s vice is warranted, though the narrative is by and large deficient in providing adequate explanation of Dustin’s interior life, as well as that of the other key characters. The hairpin action of The Wild East: Drunk on Power will have you turning pages rapidly, following Dustin’s drunken antics as well as the riveting possibilities of an alternate American history. This first installment brings the book to a culmination that not only shocks, but also propels the narrative into the sequel.
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