Written by Erin Bowman
Published September, 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genres: Historical, Western
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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.
Having got my taste for YA Westerns from Rae Carson’s Walk on Earth a Stranger, I was fully expecting to dive into Vengeance Road and love it straight off the bat. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Vengeance Road lacked any real ‘push, as well as a distinct level of urgency and excitement. This book took me weeks – WEEKS – to finish, as I kept putting it down and had little motivation to pick it up again.
“Hell, I’ll be safest pretending I’m a boy the rest of my life. The frontier ain’t for the faint of heart, and it certainly ain’t kind to women. Sometimes I think the whole world’s ‘gainst us.”
Vengeance Road is startlingly similar to Walk on Earth a Stranger in the way that our lead protagonist disguises herself as a boy in order to seek revenge, striking out on her own in a world that’s unsafe and ‘no good’ for young ladies. Though the plots do differ, it was hard to sometimes keep in mind what happened in one book, and what happened in the other. Sometimes the plotlines and characters would intermingle for me, which made things confusing. I guess that’s what happens when you read two similar books in the span of a month.
Walk on Earth a Stranger was, in my opinion, far superior to Vengeance Road. Comparisons aside, I was let down by the weak character development in this one, as well as the lacklustre romance. While I admired that our leading lady, Kate, didn’t hesitate in making hard decisions, I didn’t particularly enjoy her as a character, nor did I feel that I ever really got to know her all that well.
“Money’s supposed to fix problems, not give you more, but I guess life ain’t that straightforward.”
Jesse and Will were okay sidekicks; joining Kate on her journey to exact revenge for the notorious Rose Riders that killed her father. At times I found it difficult to really distinguish one brother from the other, nor did I buy into the growing attraction both Kate and Jesse had for one another. Their relationship seemed rather forced romantically, and the obstacles that kept them from their true displays of affection (such as Will) were conveniently swept aside near the end, so that we kind of got this stunted ‘all at once’ show of passion that didn’t really work.
I hate to say it, but Vengeance Road was just boring for me. When a book is mainly pegged as an action/adventure book, I expect to be hooked. I just wasn’t with this one. Certain parts lagged and a lot of it was way too predictable. There were nice little touches, such as the myth of the gold and the ghostly shooter in the ravine, but it was too little too late. Kate and co. kept getting side-tracked by other things, or by other minor encounters with the Rose Riders, and I couldn’t help but wonder just when it was all going to end.
“Life don’t care ’bout sorrys. Bad things happen, and you can’t let ’em harden you. Whatever happened to yer pa, it ain’t yer fault, Nate, and you gotta let it go.”
Probably my main irk, however, was the Western slang that Erin Bowman utilised. It was teeth-grindingly difficult to swallow so many chapters of ‘I’s’ and ‘says’ and really hindered my reading.
All in all, I was severely unimpressed with Vengeance Road. If you’re going to pick just one of the YA Westerns currently circulating, I suggest you pick Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson instead.