“The Blood Of The Cactus” by Joey Rodriguez: Review

“A monastery’s bell tower struck the noon hour with a solemn tone. The offbeat thump of the carpetbag crashed into the entrance door with glee. Confusion obscured the unsure monk’s face as he tiptoed into the street and opened the discarded, dusty luggage. Shock absorbed his curiosity; his hand wicked his bald, perspiring scalp. He had no chance to speak, no time to thank the mysterious donors as they disappeared into the shimmering landscape, a smoky haze enveloping their determined pace.”

Synopsis: Two very dangerous men, Alejandro and Yanga, seek divine retribution for wrongs done to Yanga’s family. As the pair wander the magic-realism-infused Western landscape, dispensing vigilante justice to a series of criminals and sinners, the sins of the past are slowly revealed.

Hi everyone, I’m back! It’s been a while since I’ve posted a review. The good news is, I’m finally able to work from home! This means I can avoid unnecessary risk to my person, as my office is located in the core of downtown Montreal. Hooray! The bad news is I need to get a new desk for my office. I didn’t anticipate my work setup would be so demanding, so I’ve been unable to access my desktop PC for several weeks. While this is a blessing in a way (less social media and other junk, more reading time….), it makes certain obligations (such as this website) somewhat more difficult to manage. I am currently writing this on my wife’s laptop, and so far it’s pretty serviceable.

Today, we’re taking a look at a new novella from Joey Rodriguez (You’ll recall his excellent novel JQR, which I previously reviewed. Go read it, it’s great!), The Blood Of The Cactus. Joey reached out and asked for an honest review, and how could I refuse? This novella is in the 80 page range, and is a fairly quick read. That being said, size doesn’t matter! Stop laughing!

While TBOTC is a short read, it comes packed with Western goodness. Is it a trope to have two gunmen seeking vengeance for past wrongs? Absolutely, yes. Does it make this novella any less entertaining? Hellllll no! Fans of the Western genre will get their fill, as Joey’s prose paints a vivid picture of this bleak yet intriguing landscape, where people seek their fortune and the cactus provides respite in the harshest terrain. Joey’s prose is just as good as I recall from JQR, and makes the text flow nicely.

Our protagonists, Alejandro (the talkative one) and Yanga (the strong silent one) make a classic “buddy-team”, and made me think of The Sisters Brothers (another contemporary Western worth reading). Alejandro’s dialogue is a pleasure to read, and you’ll likely find yourself laughing out loud at least a couple of times. At times one questions whether he is intellectually deficient, or merely sarcastic (such as when he “mistakenly” flashes a bouncer in response to a statement they made). Regardless, he is always entertaining.

The plot is difficult to elaborate on without giving away key elements of the story. Suffice it to say that much of what you read fits into the “revenge narrative” structure, albeit with some very important secrets worked into the mix. The setting is what makes this story stand out, as certain characters appear to literally be human/animal hybrids. At one point, there are also spirits of the dead which make an appearance. Why such beings exist in this world? We have no idea. Is it real, or is it in Alejandro’s head? You’ll need to read to understand. It does provide an interesting diversion from the typical Western landscape though, and it brought to mind the Taheen and Low Men of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series in a pleasant way.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. It’s quick, clean, presents interesting and complex characters (especially for such a short length), and makes good use of Western tropes while injecting an entirely different perspective on the genre. You should definitely check this one out!

Happy Reading!

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