Book Review : Vengeance Road
By Erin Bowman
Revenge is worth its weight in gold.
When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden gold mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers—and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I have not read many westerns in my life. Vengeance Road is what I would consider to be a classic western. It was grittier than I expected for a young adult novel.
Kate, the protagonist, is ornery. From the moment we meet her she is solely focused on her quest for revenge, to the point of being one dimensional as a character. She doesn’t turn her head when a certain cowboy walks by, she doesn’t long for a pretty dress and she certainly doesn’t pine away for someone to take care of her. I can’t say I particularly liked Kate, until she gets shot on page 88. After being shot it would be ridiculous to keep up the fiction that she is a boy. Too many novels become ridiculous as a girl disguises herself as a boy, becoming silly and highly unrealistic. Kate’s deception adds another layer of tension with her relationship with the Colton brothers, Jesse and Will. It was a logical time for the other characters to discover her identity and made the novel more interesting.
As a western, Vengeance Road is peppered with murder, poker, cowboy cussin’ and saloons. It is missing the quintessential gun fight on a dusty road in the middle of town. The painted ladies help Kate, and Will describes Evelyn as his favorite whore. Sex is all off page. There are some kissing scenes which are passionate, but the characters break it off because they need to have a clear head for revenge against the Rose gang led by Waylan Rose.
Bowman does a good job developing Lil’s character in the last half of the book. We don’t know her full backstory, however, we know that she had been captured after the man she would have married was killed. She is not loyal to Kate, but rather recognizes she has a debt and she wants to return to her people. Liluye has dignity, self-respect, a sense of justice, faith and is resourceful. She does not feel that she is a second-class citizen. As an Apache, she has a different mythology that she shares with Kate as an insight into her chosen path. We get a small peek into the Apache’s lives as they celebrate a girl of about 13 entering womanhood. Liluye’s belief in Ussen, their god, helps her to find peace with Jesse who had never been kind or polite. Liluye was one of my favorite characters even though she was a secondary character.
Westerns offer many classic themes in literature; a quest for justice and revenge, an extension of mercy and seeking forgiveness. How different is Kate’s thirst for revenge than Edmond in the Count of Monte Cristo? I love the Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a difference mostly in the style of writing and time period. I was mostly fascinated that Vengeance Road was written by a woman because, other than having a female protagonist, it seems more like a book written for boys.
I didn’t absolutely gobble up this western; I think we can safely say it isn’t my favorite genre. Bowman kept a close hand as she slowly revealed twists in the plot. The writing was interesting and a step above many YA novels. I always love an unforeseen twist! The first third was a might tiresome for me to read, but the last two thirds picked up the pace to a gallop.
I loved the cover illustration!
3.5 out of 4 stars
A modern twist on a western to try that I recommend is Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson. It is actually the fourth novel in a series, but can be read prior to the other three without too many problems.