Monday, May 6, 2019

Review: Westside by W.M. Akers

Westside by W.M. Akers
Harper Voyager
Publication: May 7th, 2019
Hardcover. 304 pages.

About Westside:

"New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave. 

It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home."

Westside is a multi-layered historical fiction/fantasy that arrives on the scene with strength and the sign of clear talent as a debut from W.M. Akers. It's not a book without its own problems, but it's a solid example of inventiveness that left me constantly turning the pages. Westside is a book with quiet ambition that succeeds at creating a unique and innovative setting, but that blunders ever so slightly in finding a steady plot and pacing.

Westside is unpredictable and full of wit, grit, and everything you might imagine would be present in a wild and uncontrollable New York setting. The best parts of this book are the world-building and the protagonist, Gilda Carr, though both of these are not without their own problems. To start, the world-building is truly fascinating and a great example of an author taking a familiar setting and turning it entirely upside down into something almost entirely unrecognizable. I loved the Eastside/Westside situation and the background for how the Westside became what it is. I was entranced by the mystery of the people who disappear in the shadows and how buildings and streets can simply disappear and be suddenly replaced with random wild growths of forests or plants. The contrast between the Eastside and the Westside is stark, but I also enjoyed the slight similarities that could be discerned at times and spoke to some stronger themes. There is an additional rather large third setting that appears within the story that I can't specifically mention here because it's a fairly important plot point, but I can say that it's an intriguing addition that added necessary depth to the story.

Gilda Carr is a street-wizened, rather hardened woman who has become a seasoned resident of the Westside and is afraid of very little, save, perhaps, the dark night of the Westside. Westside is told from the first person perspective of Gilda, and I'm not sure I'd have it any other way. Her dry wit, general disinterest, and apathetic commentary on what was happening around her was one of the most compelling components of the entire book. Her commitment to only solving tiny mysteries was one of the more interesting parts of this plot, and I enjoyed seeing how that slowly unraveled and also remained true at the same time. She certainly has some development in this book, but there were also plenty of times when I never felt fully connected to her and couldn't quite decipher all of her decisions. I liked the Akers wanted to keep some things about her and the world mysterious, but I felt disconnected from things just a bit too much at times.

Despite the positive components, there were some places where I struggled with this book. The biggest problem I had was that there just seemed to be too much going on. Too many character threads, too many random diversions and leads, and a general sense of feeling as if I've missed something. There were many times in the last two-thirds of the book where I realized that I was trying to read quickly so as to simply finish the book, and that's never really a good sign to be rushing through a book. There were also a few issues with inconsistent pacing throughout, with things happening to quickly or too suddenly and then other things that felt oddly drawn out. In general, though, things tended to be too fast rather than too slow.

Overall, I've had pretty mixed feelings about Westside. On the one hand, it's a seriously inventive and interesting novel with a lot of great things to explore, but on the other hand it felt a bit overdone and had too much going on overall. Because of this, I've given Westside 3.75 stars. I've gone back and forth a lot on what to rate this book, but for right now this feels like a good place to put it. If you read the synopsis for this book and find yourself interested, then I certainly recommend you still check it out!

*I received a copy of Westside in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound


  1. It's always nice to read an honest review of a book. You did a good job here.

    I didn't see your TTT post up anywhere this week, so I'll leave the link to my TTT here. :)

  2. I have to agree with you, this was a sort of disorganized plot that went off the rails at some point. But I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the characters enough to rate it higher.

    1. The worldbuilding and characters really were done well, they made it a lot more enjoyable despite the plot.