Cold as Hell: A Black Badge Novel
© 2022 Rhett C. Bruno, Jaime Castle
Audible narration provided by
Arthur Morgan Roger Clark
419 pages | Audible edition ~13 hours
James Crowley was a notorious outlaw and gunman, riding with a band of bank-robbers and highwaymen known as the Scuttlers – until he met his end, and woke to find himself between death and life, with a black star seared onto his chest and a voice in his head. He had become a Hand of God, a Black Badge, his mission on Earth to hunt for demonic forces plaguing humanity and to send them back to the icy wastes of perdition. A unique mix of western and dark fantasy, Cold as Hell mixes familiar scenes of the western (bar fights and stagecoach robberies) with altered takes on werewolves, yeti, and other nephilim. A story that begins with a bank robbery reeking ofthe demonic – the culprit having powers beyond mortals quickly escalates into a greater mystery, as the angel who handles Crowley believes that dark forces are trying to create a direct opening between the world of mortal men, and that of the chaotic wastes of Hell. Its Audible edition uses the distinctive voice of RDR2’s Roger Clark (better known as Arthur Morgan) to superb effect.
I must say at the start that I’m incredibly biased to love this book, because I was drawn to it after discovering that Roger Clark – aka Red Dead Redemption II’s Arthur Morgan– did the Audible version, using a very similar voice to his Morgan character. The attraction was made perfect by this not only being a western, but a western featuring a character with strong parallels to Arthur – being a not-bad man who fell into a bad life, drawn in by a charismatic figure he later came to loathe, forced into hiding by said figure developing an appetite for cold-blooded murder, and kept on the crooked path by want of any other skills other than shooting. (His ex-gang even has minor members with the same names as RDR2’s Van der Lindes!) There’s immediate appeal for an RDR2-loving reader, then, to imagine Crowley as Arthur, as a man spared Hell for some of his better decisions, consigned to chase demonic bounties across the west. Certainly the background is the same: small towns, trains, coaches, the rapidly-civilizing frontier. That this is saturated with fantasy – Crowley having to answer to a mysterious but forceful angel who can speak to him through any mirrored surface, his foes being more often supernatural creatures who hide in the margins and wide spaces of the west – adds a thick layer of interest, especially because the authors don’t just drop werewolves de novo into the set of Gunsmoke, but fuse them with native American mythology – though the underlying basis is the Biblical declaration that angels ‘knew’ mortal women and began Nephilim, commonly translated as ‘giants’ but used as the source of all kinds of unpredictable beasts here.
I was completely taken away by Cold as Hell. Yes, the narration was probably the strongest selling point for me, and I did not help things by listening to this while playing RDR2. I was so absorbed by the story, though, that I quickly switched to reading it on the Kindle, and despite having finished it I’m looking forward to returning to the story (and to Clark’s narration) by continuing in the audiobook. I will definitely be reading the sequel in May! (Also: Bram Stoker is a character in this.)
Interesting! I’ve come across a few like this – essentially Westerns with a supernatural twist. I’m guessing its a whole sub-genre??
Very possibly! I’ll know for sure once Amazon starts sending me nonstop ads for related books. 😉