[Book Review] Baen Books: ‘The Cunning Man’ by D.J. Butler & Aaron Michael Ritchey

The Cunning Man by DJ Butler and Aaron Michael Ritcheyy

It’s the depths of the Depression, and a mining town in Utah is shut down. Something has awakened underground, and now a monster roams the tunnels. Along comes Hiram Woolley. Hiram is a man with mystical abilities derived from the commonsense application of Scot-Irish folk wisdom and German Braucher magic. He possesses an arcane Bloodstone that allows him to see a lie the moment it is spoken. Behind the played-out farms and failed businesses are demons, curses, sorcerers, and unatoned wrongs. Bags of groceries and carpentry won’t be enough this time.The job will take a man who has known sorrow. A man who has known war. A man of wisdom. A man of magic. The job will take a Cunning Man.

The Cunning Man is a book I picked from the pile of books sitting in my library. The cover, by Dan dos Santos, initially drew me in. It gives it an other-worldly type appeal that makes you wonder what is going on. What made me actually open the cover was the name of D.J. Butler.

The novel is set in depression era Utah and Hiram Wooley and his adopted son set out on a mission to deliver food to out-of-work miners in a nearby town. Realizing the food stuffs is only a temporary fix and not the solution, the farmer decides to see if he can help get the mine reopened. Their quest of good intentions leads them down a path of sibling quarrels, dark magic, and family secrets,. Along the way, they encounter dark practioners and union organizers.

Hiram is a devout Mormon who practices folk magic. He utilizes Bible verses, dowsing rods, fairy stones (what he calls peep stones), and other folksy magic implements to protect himself and others while keeping these talents a secret from his son. Micheal is the adopted native son of Hiram – he is an intelligent, college-bound, modern young man who believes in the world of science.

Overall, this is an interesting novel with a different twist on the pulpy noir fiction. It introduces shades of horror and fantasy and gives the general vibe of the era’s dime store novels.

The two main characters have a compelling depth, but the lesser characters feel flat. There were a few plot points and character actions that didn’t make sense or seem to contribute to the story. Maybe they are for use in a future novel or part of those storylines hit the editing table. For now, they don’t help build the character(s) or advance the plotline.

I give the book 4 stars. It is a good read, but not always an easy one. I found myself easily distracted from the novel at various points as it lost my interest. If you are into era-type books and want to step beyond the wild west, regency, or barbarian… here is a new era to explore.

Written by: D.J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey
Cover Art by: Dan dos Santos

PopCultHQ Rating - 4 Stars
PopCultHQ Rating – 4 Stars

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1 = We finished the book with effort

2 = Readable, but more fluff than substance

3 = Good

4 = Pretty Good and worth passing on to your friends

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