Friday, August 26, 2016

Vengeance Road (Erin Bowman)

Vengeance Road
Erin Bowman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Fiction, YA Western
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Kate Thompson just turned eighteen a short time ago - and she grows up fast, the moment she rides home to find the house in flames and her beloved Pa hanging from the mesquite tree over Ma's grave. She doesn't know why the Rose Riders, notorious gang headed by Waylan Rose, rode all the way from their usual stomping grounds to Prescott to target her family, but it doesn't matter: she won't rest until each and every one of them's as dead as the father she buried. As she rides across Arizona Territory in pursuit, she inadvertently picks up the Colton brothers, Will and Jesse, who prove impossible to shake... especially when there may be gold involved, a lost mine deep in the Superstition Mountains and in the very heart of Apache territory. Kate couldn't care less about any gold, not while her father's killer still walks and talks, but much blood has already been spilled over this claim - and hers may be next.

REVIEW: This is a fast-riding Western adventure in the vein of True Grit, with flying bullets and lost fortunes and twists and turns aplenty. A frontier girl, Kate grew up strong and keen, setting out on her quest without quite caring if she ever makes it back alive. Along the way, she's forced to confront more about herself than she wanted to know, learning just how much she really has to learn, but she keeps her spine and her fire through most of the tale. She's not a perfect heroine, letting the ends justify the means more than once... but nobody in this book is perfect, and everyone ends up using someone for their own goals at some point - sometimes with tragic consequences. This is not a watered-down young adult love-on-the-range tale, either; though there are some sparks of romance, they're firmly kept on the background for most of the book, and even when they try to move to the forefront, there are many complications. The characters are solid residents of their era, with the attendant attitudes and prejudices: all the whites look askance at the Apaches, who in turn rarely speak less than ill of the whites, with little more than grudging tolerance ever managed. They also smoke, drink, and make casual reference to prostitutes. It was a hard time that produced hard people, but they were still human, still trying to do right by themselves and, when possible, those they love... even if they failed at least as often as not. With hardly ever a dull moment or sour note, not to mention its unflinching willingness to take its characters to some very harsh places, both physically and emotionally, I highly enjoyed this Old West romp.

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