Genre: Historical, Western, YA
Publication date: September 1, 2015
by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there's room for love in a heart so full of hate.
In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation
-A copy was provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review-
“HEY, PARDNER. You don’t happen to have a dip there, wouldcha? Yer gonna be in fer a wild, wild ride, Western style.”
Did I say that right? Did I sound like a kick-ass cowboy, about to tell a story around a campfire? Yes? …No? Ah, well.
2015 is definitely the year where Western YA is taking the world by storm. I’ve already read 2 set in this era – one during the Californian Gold Rush (Walk on Earth a Stranger) and finally, this one, set a little bit after all the gold hooligans have come and gone. And to think there’s another one set with a Chinese heroine (Under the Never Sky), which I hear is pretty good, diverse, and character-driven (you bet I’ll be reading that one as soon as I can a copy. Chinese heroine + Western setting? I THINK I’M DROOLING). I like the direction YA trends are going; we’re finally exploring other settings out there that could provide limitless possibilities, settings that could give original stories, adventures and journeys.
Vengeance Road‘s premise is something that we definitely have seen before, do note. It’s a story of revenge – Kate came home only to find her father hanged for the gold he whisked away from the Superstition Mountains years ago, a fact he kept hidden to protect her from outlaws whose greed for riches have clouded their judgement. Instead of letting go and moving on, Kate has other plans – dark, dangerous, and deadly plans. She wants to chase after the people who killed and hanged her father as there is no other way for her mind to rest easy otherwise. So, armed with her pistols and her new cowboy get-up (because who else would seriously believe a woman could actually do a suicide mission during these times?), she gallops with her mare, Silver, either towards her death or her vengeance.
Like I said, a revenge story. We’ve all read that before, but what made this one interesting is the setting it was in. We’re not in some typical high school full of geeks and nerds and jocks who could lend a helping hand to our band of merry cowboys. We’re in the wild, wild west – where towns were made of wood, where saloons were everywhere, where cigarettes were called dips, where battles were settled with Coltons and Remmingtons, where your life could be forfeit in a game of poker, where your strength was valued in how fast you could pull that trigger. I love that instead of getting in the car or taking a plane to get to one state, our cast of characters hop on to their horses and ride the night and days away, camping when necessary, only having each other and their stories and emotions as their companions. This is what made this revenge story more memorable – the uniqueness of the setting, the values and the personality of the characters that have been shaped by their environment.
And the best part is? It’s immersive. Just because this is YA and it has eighteen year olds as heroes and heroines don’t mean it’s some carebear version of that dangerous reality. People die, people get killed, accidentally or intentionally. Our characters get blood in their hands – some they regret, some they relish because it aveges multiple deaths whose only fault were that they were at the wrong place and time when the Rose Riders came upon them. All the shoot-outs, man. So. Cool.
PLUS, THAT DIALECT. If you’re someone whose eyes get twitchy at wrong spellings (yer instead of you’re, I’s instead of I’m) and wrong grammar (ain’t instead of aren’t), then you might want to proceed with caution cause you brain would likely explode. But in my opinion, it was pretty worth it because the language used felt so very Western and authentic. And come on, it takes great skill to weave a story with this kind of language and make it flow so well. Hats off to you, madam.
One thing that I didn’t really like was the romance. So, Kate meets these brothers at Wickenburg who decided to accompany her in her quest of revenge. One of them’s Jesse and, suffice to say, he is an ass. A judgemental, hypocritical ass whose sometimes-friendly-sometimes-mean-as-hell attitude made me not care for him nor his brother not one bit. I don’t even get why Kate’s heart flutters for him, and how she could forgive him for the things he would do to her in the novel. Seriously, the things he did were defintiely ass-worthy. I was not a fan of this ship, and the scenes they had together made me just want to roll my eyes to Kingdom Come.
Other than though, this was really good. This is the first I read from Erin Bowman and it ain’t gonna be my last. Here’s to hoping other authors will start using other settings, too, and give us stories with extraordinary characters with extraordinary experiences.