Book Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

portfolio_vengeanceRoadCoverVengeance Road

Erin Bowman

4/5 Stars

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

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.

Review:

What do you get when you combine the West with revenge? Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road. I don’t think I’ve read a better Western-themed novel in a long time. Her combination of fiction and fact to create this Western-set world is stunning and finishing it gave me that feel-good moment, like watching Old Yeller or reading Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls was one of my favourite authors growing up, so it was great connecting that with Vengeance Road. This novel has tough, gritty characters that are neither black or white, but grey and fast-paced writing that leaves you stunned at every turn of the page. Erin Bowman presents us with the memorable work that is Vengeance Road.

The main character, Kate Thompson has been shaped and formed by the world she lives in, giving us this rough character bent on revenge. Kate might even be considered the anti-protagonist, determined to kill the ones who killed her father in cold-blood, aka the Rose Riders. Yet, the reader is still rooting for Kate because her morals are better than the Rose Riders, who don’t care whether the people they hurt are innocent or not. Not only that but Kate grows to have a lot of regrets about her actions, so we see she doesn’t take things lightly. As the novel progresses, Kate reveals more of herself to her companions, Jesse and Will Colton and Liluye, and we see a softer side to this incredibly grey character. I think the most surprising part about her is her love for an edition of Little Women, given as a gift by her father, which ends up being her most treasured possession. Other characters in turn reveal things about themselves. We have Jesse who tells about how he watched his mother die, and how that effected his relationship with his father. Bowman’s characters carry themselves with this hard shell, necessary for surviving, but character development is huge and the cast learns a lot about each other and themselves.

Getting to the writing and voice, this was probably one of the strongest parts of Vengeance Road. I was totally and completely inside Kate’s head. This was due to Bowman having the diction represent Kate’s voice and how she’d sound if you had the chance to speak with her – which would be awesome, unless of course you’re a Rose Rider! Kate was taught to read and write by her father so she’s not completely uneducated, but she never went to school (the school having been built when she was 12). Bowman create’s a balance of improper and proper grammar, fitting with the environment Kate’s grown up in. Furthermore, the action is fast-paced and there’s never a dull moment. The plot twists are real, ripping open both the characters’ heart and my own in ways we never saw coming. This heartache and despair is the sort of thing that makes a good Western book or movie – with it we know we’re living in the real world! There was one plot twist that took me by complete surprise, I was hoping the author would come in and say, “just kidding!’. Bowman’s writing captures both Kate and the West extraordinarily well.

There were a few things I disliked about Vengeance Road. In the beginning of the novel, after Kate sets out on her search for the Rose Riders, she’s in search of a man called Abe. I was originally confused with this because I thought he was a member of the gang, but it turned out he was a friend of Kate’s father, and if anything were to happen to him, Kate was to find Abe. Something else I’m conflicted about are the ghost stories surrounding the Superstition Mountains – where the gold the Rose Riders are seeking is said to be. My first impression was that we’d hear about it earlier on and more frequently. I did enjoy the way the author set it up, but I am a huge fan of myths and legends so I’m at odds.

As a whole, I loved Vengeance Road and hope to read the companion novel Erin Bowman is planning. Both the wonderful and the melancholy moments leave me wanting more from her world and its deeply, intriguing characters! I agree with the comparison to Blood Red Road; this is perfect for fans of Moira Young. There are aspects of both novels that share a similar feel to it, while still being different enough that you wouldn’t go into VR expecting things to occur in the same way as Blood Red Road. I recommend this to people wanting a feel-good, Western-themed novel and characters you can’t help loving, regardless of where their moral compass points. Be sure to check out this book!

I received a free eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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