So, this book that I got from Netgalley appears to actually be two novellas in one: Pieces of Hate and Dead Man's Hand, both by Tim Lebbon, which are part of a series called The Assassins. I was on a roll with fun-looking novellas (waving to KJ Parker, hi, sweetie!), and these looks kind of swashbuckly.
Sadly, they weren't what I was hoping. First, I don't think they fit together very well--especially not with Dead Man's Hand coming first in the version I got. It's a better introduction to the characters, but it's chronologically the second story, meaning there's a bit of a spoiler for the fact that our protagonist is not going to successfully kill his target in the next (earlier) story.
Anyway, in each one, you have our protagonist, Gabriel, who has been chasing his enemy, Temple, across the globe. When he gets close, his wounds start to ache; after each encounter, he has more scars and injuries. But he doesn't die--he's been chasing Temple for centuries, ever since Temple slaughtered his family 600 years ago.
In Dead Man's Hand, our narrator is a shopkeeper in Deadwood when Gabriel rolls into town seeking Temple, who is, when the whim strikes him, an assassin for hire. Temple is creepy--a lot of time is spent during the moments before the narrator opens a door or lights a lamp in a scary room--and the mystery of the hunt Gabriel is on kind of teases it. It's a short story, so the fact that it's not deeper or richer is maybe okay; the tension comes from not knowing.
Pieces of Hate takes place earlier, and it's told from Gabriel's point of view. We get the moment when he finds his family dead and then something mystical happens and he's magically connected to Temple, maybe? But the main story takes place in Port Royal, among pirates. Gabriel encounters Temple's slaughter, tries to track him, enlists allies, tracks him. Again, we know he won't win, because we've already read Dead Man's Hand, which takes place later.
The most annoying part is that they're virtually the same story. I mean, you're an immortal chasing an immortal, you've hunted him down with your guns and your knives before and shot him and stabbed him, etc. It doesn't work. So maybe you need another plan. Maybe, if every time you try to shoot him, he doesn't die, continuing to try and shoot him is just dumb.
I think this might be the point of the story. If not, it's even more annoying; if it is, then it's just...not very moving. Like, he's still passionate about revenge for people who died 600 years ago, whose faces and voices he can't remember. Like, he's caused his own horrible carnage trying to track this guy down. Like, his whole plan is to try the same thing again and see if it works this time. He's clearly addicted to the chase. But those facts all just sit there--they don't come alive with any observations about the nature of addiction, or of revenge, or of time and the role of forgetting.
He's not trying to save innocent people, or end his own torment. The task is truly Sisyphean, but without the incredibly important moment at the top, watching the rock roll down the hill, where you contemplate what is inevitable and what is a choice, and what a life is worth.
So, for anyone who's wondering if I give fair reviews...blah.