You Die When You Die by Angus Watson

June 16, 2017


You can’t change your fate – so throw yourself into battle, because you’ll either win or wake up drinking mead in the halls of your ancestors. That’s what Finn’s tribe believe.

But when their settlement is massacred by a hostile tribe and Finn and several friends, companions and rivals make their escape across a brutal, unfamiliar landscape, Finn will fight harder than he’s ever fought in his life. He wants to live – even if he only lives long enough to tell Thyri Treelegs how he feels about her.

Hardwork doesn’t really live up to its name. It is actually quite an idyllic place to grow up. The villagers lead a cosy life, the local native tribespeople are more than happy to provide them with resources like food. Everything is nice and tranquil up until the point where a group of warriors arrive with the intention of killing every man, woman and child. A massacre ensues, but a small group of Hardworkers manage to escape their gruesome fate. Pursued by the fearsome Owsla*, the elite warriors of the Calnian empire, the villagers run for their lives.

When we first met Finnbogi the Boggy (Finn for short) he is a bit of a mess. He is indecisive and, though he means well, he is more than a little self-absorbed. Forced to flee the only home he has ever known, he finds himself, along with his friends, hunted. As the narrative unfolds, you start to catch glimpses of the man he will become. At heart he is a decent sort, he is just so wrapped up in himself he has a tendency to miss the blindingly obvious. Nobody ever said the hero’s journey was going to be an easy one. I always enjoy when an author pays close attention to their character evolution. Finn starts out almost like a bystander in his own story but as he grows he gets more and more drawn into events.

The other characters are also well realised. One of the little things I really liked is the way Hardworkers are named. It leads to some impressive monikers – Wulf the Fat (he’s not), Keef the Berserker (he is), Sassa Lipchewer (she does), and Freydis the Annoying (she can be) to name but a few. Erik the Angry (he was, not so much anymore) is a personal favourite. The Owsla are great fun too. Sofi Tornado and her elite group of warriors start off as a dark murderous bunch but they also begin to evolve into something else as the plot develops. Once again there are some cracking names Paloma Pronghorns, Chogolisa Earthquake, the list goes on and on. I could explain why they all have such unusual names but really that would spoil the surprise.

The author has taken his inspiration from the indigenous peoples of the American continent as well as the Vikings who journeyed West long before any other Europeans. Much of the story is driven by the culture clash that exists between these two groups. The different tribal cultures are lots of fun. Each group that the Hardworkers meet have their own unique traditions and rules. There is one tribe in particular who have developed a society where swearing is a daily part of their lives. The conversations during this part of the novel are peppered with more f-bombs than I would care to count. It was like being back in Glasgow. There are plenty of drug references as well. All the natives refer to the Hardworkers as the “Mushroom Men” for fairly obvious reasons. What with all this adult content the more delicate amongst you may wish to look away. Perhaps it might be an idea to give the entire book a miss and try something a bit more sedate and genteel? Personally though, I loved every second of it.

The author injects some nice humorous touches into You Die When You Die. I’ve always thought properly judging the right level of comedy to include in a plot must be the most difficult of tasks, but he carries it off with aplomb. Some of the Hardworker’s reactions are priceless. Everyone is terribly polite, even with the prospect of a violent confrontation. Sometimes when you read a novel it is immediately obvious when an author is having a blast with their characters. It becomes swiftly evident that Angus Watson is doing precisely that. This boundless sense of enthusiasm is contagious and makes You Die When You Die such a genuine pleasure to read. Prophecies, chases, foul-mouthed tribal elders, political conspiracies and a warrior with questionable depth perception. I’ll be honest, I don’t think you can beat it. More please, as soon as is humanly possible!

The soundtrack to Far Cry: Primal by Jason Graves is the ideal musical companion to You Die When You Die. Lots of traditional drums and haunting pipes blend together perfectly. If that doesn’t enhance your enjoyment of the book then goodness knows what will. Honestly, it’s like they were made for one another.

You Die When You Die (West of West book one) is published by Orbit and available from 22nd June. The good news is that a sequel, The Land You Never Leave, will follow. I’m looking forward to it already. Highly recommended.

*No idea if the Owsla are a nod to Richard Adams work. I’d like to think so. They were a pretty ruthless bunch as well if I remember correctly. That is where the comparison ends however. I can categorically confirm the warriors in You Die When You Die are definitely not white supremacist rabbits.

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