Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Riders of the Purple Sage (Zane Grey)

Riders of the Purple Sage
Zane Grey
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Western
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Jane Withersteen's father left her a legacy of wealth and respect in 1870's Cottonwoods, a Mormon settlement in the sage-swept deserts of Utah... but now, having befriended the outsider Gentiles and defied church elders by showing affection for the wrong man, she stands on the brink of ruin. The last person she ever thought she'd consider an ally was the legendary Mormon-killer Lassiter, yet when her Gentile friend Bern Venters is threatened by elder Tull, only Lassiter's arrival spares him. As cattle rustlers, church-led conspiracies, and other threats close in on the Withersteen estate, Jane finds herself more and more reliant on the mysterious man, even as she learns the truth behind his violent and vengeful reputation.

REVIEW: This is a book where setting outshines both story and characters by orders of magnitude. The wild deserts and rough canyon country glow on the page, painted bright and bold. Even the tension of the frontier world, with the threat of stampedes and rustlers and religious tensions, takes on a stark and tangible nature. The characters, by comparison, come across as flattened cartoons, their speech and moods melodramatic almost to the point of comedy. The women are universally innocent and soft and in need of masculine protection, while the men are grizzled soldiers in the bloody game of frontier life... even the good guys, who nonetheless crave the salvation of a lady's touch. Even as they wrestled with their own imperfections, they did so in such grandiose manners that it was almost laughable. The worst offender by far was Jane Withersteen, who clings to blind faith long past the point of sympathy or sense simply to prolong her inner angst. Thanks in no small part to her and the rest of the over-the-top cast, the story often stretches credulity, with peculiar meetings and withheld information and impossible coincidences, not to mention a tendency to relay important encounters secondhand to the readers. The whole thing takes on a soap opera sheen at the climax. I enjoyed some of the descriptions, and a few of the action sequences had real tension, but overall I found myself too annoyed by the characters.

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