Hmm. Where to begin with this one. I guess I’d call Blood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin an Old West Steampunk Fantasy. Usually the steampunk stuff I read takes place in England or at least has a focus in Europe. This book takes place in Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas. The main character is one Captain Jonas Hollister, US Cavalry. Captain Hollister and his patrol run into something they’ve never seen before when out on what they think is a routine Indian patrol in Wyoming, looking for a group that ambushed settlers (please don’t bother me about this word. I know the correct term is Native American, but back in this time period, where the characters are, they use that word so I am using that word).
They couldn’t be more wrong. It wasn’t Indians who took out the settlers. It was…well he doesn’t know. But I’ll tell you. VAMPIRES. Or well, something like vampires. See, these creatures are referred to by themselves as Archaics. Apparently they are similar to vampires but consider themselves beyond vampires. They have most of the same vulnerabilities, but not all. They feed off blood but Archaics consider it a major taboo to feed off human blood (or at least now they do).
Unfortunately for Captain Hollister, the US Army doesn’t believe his “ravings” of blood demons killing his troops and, since he shot at least one of his men (to kill kill him), he is sentenced to hard labor at Leavenworth. If you think that prison is bad now, you should look up what it was like back then. At any rate, he rots there for about four years and nothing much of interest really happens to him. Until one day, one of his fellow prisoners, a mixed descent sergeant named Chee, gets in a fight with one of the notorious yard toughs.
Hollister watches Chee fight. As you might have guessed from the name, Chee does some fancy kung fu on the dumb prisoner and gets “the box” for his troubles, even though he was defending himself. Hollister thought that was the most interesting thing about the last four years…until he’s brought into the warden’s office to speak to Allan Pinkerton. Yes, that Pinkerton. As in the famous detective.
Seems that there’s been another attack similar to what Hollister went through four years ago, this time in Colorado. Only the last survivor of this one just happens to be a senator’s son (and for you history buffs out there, this means that this book takes place in 1876 or later, since Colorado was a territory before then). So maaaaaaaaaybe they might believe that Hollister was telling the truth four years ago.
In exchange for a full pardon and reinstatement to the army (as a major this time), Hollister is to track down and kill these things. He will have access to all the finest and newest weapons and technology. And a little help from one Abraham Van Helsing. Of course. Well, at least he only makes a bit of an appearance. Just a “here’s what you’re facing” exposition sort of appearance.
I found the book to be interesting for the most part, but I wouldn’t quite call it steampunk. Sure it used steam trains, but so did the real world at this point in time. The only thing that I think was really, truly steampunk-y was a steampowered weapon the writer referred to as the Ass Kicker. It would fire a large round big enough to basically slice a tree or two in half. It really is more of a historical fantasy with a touch of steampunk. Still, it was good enough for a five dollar book. Rating B.