Author: Erin Bowman
Genre: Western, Historical fiction
Publication Date: 7th November 2017
Read: 10th May – 13th May 2017
“You think,” he continues, “that we mighta been friends in a different life? You and me?”
“We’re already friends in this one,” I tell him.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC.
When Reece Murphy is forcibly dragged into the Rose Riders gang because of a mysterious gold coin in his possession, he vows to find the man who gave him the piece and turn him over to the gang in exchange for freedom. Never does he expect a lead to come from an aspiring female journalist. But when Reece’s path crosses with Charlotte Vaughn after a botched train robbery and she mentions a promising rumor about a gunslinger from Prescott, it becomes apparent that she will be his ticket to freedom—or a noose. As the two manipulate each other for their own ends, past secrets are unearthed, reviving a decade-old quest for revenge that may be impossible to settle.
In this thrilling companion to Vengeance Road, dangerous alliances are formed, old friends meet new enemies, and the West is wilder than ever.
First thing’s first, this book absolutely floored me. I finished it in two days and immediately wanted to start it again.
This book is the second in the Vengeance Road series, but they’re companion novels, so you don’t have to read them in publication order. I’m living proof of this, because I read Retribution Rails and am now going to see if I can get myself a copy of VR.
Retribution Rails is a wild-west inspired historical fiction, with the fast pace and drama of a YA novel. It has cowboys, it has gunslingers, it has train heists. Well, one train heist, but a dramatic one at that. Yet, where it differs from a traditional western is it’s portrayal of women, specifically the two main female characters.
Charlotte is fiercely determined, courageous and more than a little persistent in her aspirations to become a journalist. She renounces traditional gender roles and pursues a job with the all-female newspaper where her idol Nellie Bly worked. Never once does she accept that she can’t do things just as well (if not better) than a man and I loved her for it. Initially, her binarised view of good and bad (you’re either one or the other) suffocated the narrative, but as the novel progresses, she grows to realise that people (Reece in particular) are not so clear cut.
Similar to Charlotte, Kate is full of tenacity. She instantly disarms Reece when we first meet her and wields a gun like she was born to do so. I liked her unyielding nature and ‘sort it out yourselves’ attitude when it came to Reece and Charlotte’s respective plights. But, like Charlotte, she too mellows throughout the novel, becoming more compassionate and trusting of the new people in her life.
Despite how much I adore these two women, the character I warmed to the most was Reece. He’s held hostage by the gang that forced him to become a killer yet retains his morals and refuses to commit atrocities. What really tugged on my heart, was that fact that be didn’t believe himself worthy of being saved, despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary. I found myself (as I always do) rooting for his redemption. And boy does he get a redemption arc. But that would be spoiling.
I can’t remember ever having read a western before, but if they’re all like this then I’ll definitely be reading more. This novel took me completely by surprise with it’s high-octane action sequences and detailed world-building. The pace was relentless in the best possible way; there’s no time to even consider DNFing this novel because it moves swiftly from one confrontation to another. In fact, the pacing is some of the best I’ve come across in a long time and really suits the genre of the book. The narrative style was simple but effective; there’s little time for dramatic metaphors when you’re running for your life through a panic-striken town, and so accordingly Bowman is sparce with those and other types of lyrical language.
I appreciated the inclusion of non-standard dialect features in Reece’s speech, because similar to Starr’s use of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) in The Hate U Give, it gave a sense of his identity and upbringing. The only problem with including non-standard dialect features is that readers can often (wrongly) assume the character using them is unintelligent (as people often in the real world). In some cases, authors do use non-standard speech to signal ignorance (harmful in many ways as it implies accent/dialect equate to intellect, which is nothing more than a social construct and simply not true), but most use it to indicate heritage, birthplace, social and geographical identity, and projected image. In this case, Reece’s language suggests a ruggedness and lack of care about social expectations that come from living with the Rose Riders.
The research that’s gone into the novel is impressive, and Bowman takes the time to list which events are factual and which are embellished by artistic license in her acknowledgements. The only reason I knocked a half star off this book was because of its lack of diversity. All the main characters were white, western, and straight, and it wouldn’t have been too hard to include POC or Native American characters in the story, especially since the latter were a prevalent, persecuted group during the era.
Overall, though, this was a fantastic adventure story. The characters are full of depth and I’m a sucker for the enemies-to-friends trope so I loved this development. The novel has romance, shoot outs, and action at every turn, and I can guarantee you’ll not be bored for a minute.