Crosswind: The First Sark Brothers Tale
by Steve Rzasa
If Joss Whedon decided to mashup Firefly and Newsies right after he’d finished playing Final Fantasy, he might well have written Crosswind. Oh, also if he was Christian.
If you want to find the center of aviation in the Sawtooth Mountains, you want to visit the city-state of Perch. Cope Sark, daredevil pilot, helps protect the city from air bandits. His big brother, Winch, reports for one of the town’s weekly papers.
Winch also happens to belong to that strange religion that worships some fool that got himself killed down in Trestleway about ten years ago. Winch says he came back from the dead after three days, but can you really trust that nutty new religion?
When an expert aeroplane pilot crashes, Winch and Cope investigate and uncover a looming threat to the city. Are the railway barons of Trestleway attempting to muscle aeroplane competition in Perch out of the picture? Or is something even darker lurking in the shadows?
Gunfights, dogfights, blimps and mastadons all await in Crosswind.
Steve Rzasa has created a fun world. His characters spark with life and sarcasm. More than once I thought he was channeling Joss Whedon. The characters not only have the right level of snark; they also use a western lingo that puts the reader right into the setting.
Winch, the main character, travels a great character arc. His fear controls him. His doubts ring incredibly true. His flaws cause him real trouble in a way that makes him easy to identify with. I love that Cope, his brother, notices the fear and points it out: “If your God’s as powerful as you say, shouldn’t you be less scared?” Rzasa also creates some good back-and-forth between Winch and his wife, though I did feel that his children remained undeveloped (though this was appropriate for the book, as they were hardly the focus).
While Winch is the star of the book, other characters get their own arcs. Cope travels a predictable but entertaining arc from careless daredevil to humbled hothead. It’s not hard to see where he’s going to end up, but the journey is well worth the price of admission.
Even Winch’s wife Lysanne receives a compelling arc. Determined to protect her family, she does not sit on the sidelines. I’m happy to say that while this is a “boy’s book,” it fully passes the Bechdel test. Yay Rzasa!
Initially, the characters didn’t grab me. The setting, though! Oh, the setting is grand! A land of sweeping mountains and scattered city-states, steampunk technology and some dinosaurs! It’s just plain fun. We have some moments to simply sit and breathe in the beauty of the setting between some great action pieces.
I usually read while running on an elliptical. I can always tell how arresting a novel is by how far I go in any given span of time.
The many action-based chapters in this book has really helped my heart health. Thank you Mr. Rzasa, for not only being good for my imagination, but my body’s health as well. I’m sure that was your goal all along.
It’s not all perfect, though. I did wince at some of the Sark brothers’ sleuthing. At one point they’re sent out as spies, and, well, I understand it was necessary for the plot, but if little ol’ me can tell they’re not doing well? Something limped in that plot point.
The climax is also incredibly predictable; once the antagonist and the real central conflict is revealed, you know where the ending will land. However! While the climax is predictable, the fallout is not. And just because something is predictable doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable.
I want to mention the neat form Christianity takes in this novel. Like all good novels, this isn’t a doctrine textbook, and I appreciated that. However, within the context of the story, several Bible passages are read – well, as the Bible would have been written in an almost old-west type setting. I loved the recasting of the passages. Winch actually gets to meet one of the apostles, and Rzasa walks the line so very well between making the apostle “just one of the guys” and “hallowed, haloed individual.” Bonus points here from me!
Listen, this is a fun book. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun. Imaginative setting, compelling characters, and a mostly great plot combined with arresting action scenes. If you’re a Christian Firefly fan, I think you’ll love the tone of the novel. If you’re looking for something just a touch different, check this out.