‘The Bullet Swallower’ by Elizabeth Gonzalez James – Book Review

A thoroughly engaging Western

Violence begets violence and in the case of The Bullet Swallower, that quote couldn’t be more accurate. This new Western book doesn’t necessarily do anything different or unique that hasn’t been done in this field before, but the thematic weight of the characters’ actions, sprinkled with the light bites of fantasy, make it a thoroughly engaging read.

The story itself is split across two time periods – 1895 and 1964 respectively. The 1895 story is the dominant focus here though and it centers on Antonio Sonoro, a ruthless man who has promised his wife he’s going to hang up his bandit hate and stop a life of crime. Unfortunately, a drought and a desperate lack of money forces Antonio’s hand and he heads out with his brother Hugo in pursuit of a treasure that could change their fortunes forever.

Unfortunately, the pair bite off more than they can chew and when Rangers track them down, the unspeakable happens. Antonio is hell bent on revenge and sets off on a crusade to right these wrongs and cast vengeance on the Rangers.

Coinciding with this story is the 1964 plot, which sees Jamie Sonoro start to trace his family tree back through an old book, and soon realizes just how much blood is on the hands of his ancestors. As the story continues, a strange man named Remedio could hold the key to linking the past and present together.

The Bullet Swallower is an intriguing read and although it does lull a little around the middle, the second half picks up considerably. What’s particularly fascinating here is seeing how Antonio’s character develops across the book, and how his experiences with different characters – like a lackadaisical horse or an Englishman called Peter – shapes who he eventually becomes.

Thematically, the book almost predominantly embraces the idea of revenge and explores all angles of it. Is revenge really the best way of seeking redemption? How far does one’s faults go? And is it all really worth it?¬†Wrapped up in all of this is classic Western territory, so expect plenty of shootouts, tense encounters and grisly descriptions too.

On the same note as the latter, The Bullet Swallower features some absolutely gnarly images and descriptions. There’s an entire chapter that details horrific injuries that Antonio suffers from and his road to recovery. It’s both gut wrenchingly powerful in getting us inside Antonio’s mind, and absolutely mesmerizing to read. Honestly, the level of detail, use of similes and general descriptions are incredibly powerful. Elizabeth Gonzalez James has done a brilliant job here with her prose and the book is all the stronger as a result.¬†

When you break it down, the plot itself is actually rather barebones but James has dressed this up with such great writing that it feels much more epic in scope as a result. The Bullet Swallower is, quite simply, a great read. It’s a thoroughly engaging Western that fully embraces the genre and throws in some fantasy for good measure. It’s not going to blow anyone away but it’ll certainly leave an impression when you finish reading it.


The Bullet Swallower releases on 23rd January 2024 worldwide! Our thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the early review copy!

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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