A Sackett novel in L’Amour’s series about a huge clan of tough mountain men who come riding to the rescue if one of them is in trouble. I listened to this one on audio.

This opens with a fantastic example of “start with your hero treed by wolves, then set fire to the tree.” Often this sort of extreme hook is ends up ho-hum, as the writer either hasn’t given us a reason to care about the hero, or doesn’t know where to go post-tree escape, or the situation, while dangerous, is not also interesting. If you want to see that sort of hook done well, read this book. It’s also a good example of flashback narration.

It opens with Flagan Sackett in the mountain wilderness, watching a moose being stalked by a pack of wolves. He’s lurking in the hope of scaring off the wolves and getting the meat, because…

- Four days previously, he was separated from his brother Galloway and captured by Apaches, who stripped him naked and spent the night torturing him.

- Three days previously, he managed to escape. Naked and barefoot. Running over sharp rocks which badly cut his feet. Pursued by a bunch of very determined Apaches…

- …who are still chasing him, three days later. He’s still naked and has not eaten in three days while expending tons of energy fleeing Apaches, while he can barely walk and is totally lost in the unforgiving, freezing wilderness.

- …at which point he notices that he is being stalked by a lone wolf.

Seriously, how great is that? About a fourth of the total novel concerns Flagan alone in the wilderness, and it’s one of the best and most vivid fictional wilderness survival narratives I’ve read. Even one of L’Amour’s best, and he’s very good at that.

Meanwhile, Galloway is alternately trying to find Flagan and trying to establish a ranch for both of them. His chapters are third person; Flagan’s are first. Flagan’s are more fun – he’s got more of a sense of humor.

The book breaks down like this:

1. Lost in wilderness: AWESOME. A+.

Subplot 1: The lone wolf. A+. Beautifully woven into the novel, with great and unexpected conclusion.

2. Ranch war, in which Flagan and Galloway try to mind their own business while being attacked by a bunch of evil ranchers with an apparently unlimited supply of psychopathic henchmen. A-. Misses "awesome" by comparison with the lost in the woods sections. But still pretty good, with a fantastic supporting character, an erudite outlaw Sackett who descends periodically to perform amazing feats of badassery.

Subplot 2: Flagan’s romance. F. Absolutely dreadful. L’Amour can write good female characters, but this is not one of them. Flagan inexplicably falls for this obnoxious, shallow woman who refuses to believe obvious truths due to having a crush on a handsome psychopath. When she FINALLY grudgingly admits that he’s a psychopath, she promptly falls for a SECOND psychopath. Too stupid to live.

3/4ths excellent, 1/4th awful. Would probably be better read as a book rather than listened to, because then I could have skimmed the romance.

Galloway (Sacketts)
While flying to Asheville, I read these two westerns, which I happened to have on my Kindle.

I adore Louis L'Amour. This novel was a great demonstration of how good he is at pulling you into a story. Matt, the hero of this one, isn't the usual good guy who doesn't go looking for trouble, but is found by it. The first three pages of the book go basically like this:

Matt, a young gunslinger, swaggers into town and heads straight for the saloon. There he spots two tough-looking men glaring at each other.

Matt (to tough guy # 1): "I can kick your ass." (To tough guy # 2): "Yours too."

Tough guys: "Want a job?"

Matt: "No... I want a FIGHT."

Tough guys: "Suit yourself."

A beautiful girl, Moira, passes by.

Matt: "Hi, I'm Matt and I'm going to marry you. I can see our strong, handsome sons already!"

Moira: "W. T. F."

Helpful deliverer of exposition: "Hey, gunslinger! As you are probably not aware, those two tough guys are in the middle of a huge, bloody feud with each other. They both want the water from a river on property owned by a third party, Ball, who is no fighter and is going to get murdered any second now."

Matt goes to Ball's ranch.

Matt: "I'm a rough, tough gunslinger, but now I've fallen in love and mean to settle down and raise my future brood of sons. Give me a half share in your ranch and I'll fight two separate gangs of ruthless gunslingers for you!"

Enter Morgan Park, a giant ruthless gunslinger with tiny feet (this is a plot point) and a crush on Moira.

Morgan: "Make that three separate gangs of ruthless gunslingers."

Okay, this isn't actually the first three pages. Morgan doesn't appear until about page ten. But you get my drift.

I'd call this middle-grade L'Amour. The characterization and setting are pretty standard (both are much better in some of his other novels, which also goes for female characters), but it's quite engaging. I'm a bit sorry that Matt stops being such a cocky jackass early on, because he then becomes just a generic guy.

Silver Canyon

I've never read Zane Grey before, and this was not what I was expecting.

New Yorker Carey's fiance Glenn returns from WWI, shell-shocked and seriously ill from being gassed, and takes off for Arizona, to Carey's confusion. (He didn't tell her what bad shape he was in.) She finally goes out meet him. Cue lavish descriptions of scenery and life in the west. She learns that he nearly died, but has now recovered. Mostly. I was hoping for more shell-shock. What I got was this:

Carey: "Wow, life seems really rough out here. I'm not sure I like it. But I will do my best to keep up, because I love you, Glenn!"

Glenn: "City women like you are failures of the modern world and have abandoned your true female natures. You need to move here, do real work, and have babies. Also, stop wearing slutty dresses. I am shocked and horrified."

Carey: "But Glenn, I wore this white dress because you said you love me in white. Um, and also it's hot, and I love you, and you love me, right?"

Glenn: "I guess? But it's so slutty! It has NO SLEEVES! The skirts are at the knee! This is the sign of the decline of western civilization!"

Rachel [checks book to make sure that I am really reading Zane Grey, the famous writer of westerns, because I just summarized a three-page rant on the sluttiness of modern women's wear. Yep. Zane Grey.]

Rough sheep-dipper: "Hey, sexy city-slicker! Let me rape you!"

Carey [faints]

Rough sheep-dipper: "Never mind the rape. Let me lecture you on your slutty attire and how awful modern city women are, then leave in disgust."

Rachel: "Excuse me! Where are the gunslingers? The shoot-outs? The ranch wars? Or, failing that, can we have some more shell-shock? I'm always up for shell-shock!"

Characters of book: "Ha ha ha ha! No. But we've got lots more condescending lectures on the moral failures of modern women."

The Call of the Canyon
A long, satisfying, and atmospheric Western epic, full of intriguing details about culture and landscape, and with some excellent action set pieces, perfect for reading on a long plane trip. It made my flight from Paris to LA relatively painless.

There’s tons of complicated backstory, which I will not attempt to summarize. Suffice it to say that after quite a bit of desert adventuring and angst, a young boy, Johnannes Verne, ends up in Los Angeles, then a small but rapidly growing town, under the care of a savvy businesswoman named Miss Nesselrode. (She is a great character.) But Verne is menaced by his own grandfather, who wants him dead for aforesaid complicated reasons, including but not limited to an over-developed sense of honor. Cue gunfights, brutal treks through the desert, and clever financial machinating!

This is as much an old-fashioned sweeping epic and soap opera, in the best sense of the word, as it is an action story. There’s tons of characters and nearly all of them are interesting, from the Cahuilla Indians who offhandedly look after Verne when he’s a little kid, to a cattle rustler named Peg Leg Pete who plays no real role in the plot but seems to be there because he’s so much fun, to the surprisingly awesome Tia Elena, Verne’s apparently meek aunt. Unusually for L’Amour, there is a beautifully set up mystery with a great conclusion. The love story, unfortunately, falls flat, since Verne really doesn’t know Meghan at all, and she’s one of the least-developed characters. Luckily it’s not much dwelled on.

Spoilers leave footprints of unusual size )

The Lonesome Gods
Mely jumped off the bridge, so I will too. Since I despair of ever having time to write up everything individually, I have given brief reviews to the whole month below.

If anything's missing an author, it is because I am too lazy to look them up. If there's no comment, I already reviewed it here.

Three books got the comment wow, terrible! Guess it was a bad month for fiction. )
Mely jumped off the bridge, so I will too. Since I despair of ever having time to write up everything individually, I have given brief reviews to the whole month below.

If anything's missing an author, it is because I am too lazy to look them up. If there's no comment, I already reviewed it here.

Three books got the comment wow, terrible! Guess it was a bad month for fiction. )
The library at the ashram where I grew up had a bunch of Louis L'Amour westerns. My recollection was that they were rather better than one might expect, but I didn't read any as an adult until I wanted to get a feel for the archetypal western, and recalled a scene in one in which a woman kills a thug by stabbing him with a tree branch. Naturally, I wanted to re-read that one, and so asked [livejournal.com profile] whatwasthatbook which one it was. They suggested this one. It's not this one. But it does contain a sixteen-year-old girl single-handedly taking out assorted thugs with her rifle and knife, so I was happy.

Echo Sackett is a Sackett. That means she's a backwoods badass who shoots bears for meat, and also that if she ever gets in trouble, badass Sacketts will come out of the woodwork to kill people for her. She hears that she's inherited some money, and because her badass uncle is laid up after going claw-to-axe with a bear, she sets out for the big city all by herself. Most of the people she meets think she either needs protecting or is is easy picking. The one guy, an elderly but still badass lawyer with a sword cane, who knows she's a Sackett knows otherwise. But since she ends up pursued by a large gang, he sics his cityfied nephew and his friend, a free black man, on her for backup.

The nephew thinks Echo is cute but helpless. Echo knows the nephew is cute but helpless. There is a climactic battle in the woods, in which Echo is helped by her assigned protectors (whom she mostly ends up protecting) and several random Sacketts. But even with this, guess who takes out three thugs single-handed, then returns to finish off the big bad? Echo! Yay! She gets the guy, too. And three thousand dollars and a ruby in a puzzle box. And a dog. Very satisfying.

View on Amazon: Ride the River (The Sacketts)


ETA: If I were to read more by Louis L'Amour, which should I read and why? Kickass women and second sight is good; cringe-worthy portrayals of Indians (or women, etc) are bad.
The library at the ashram where I grew up had a bunch of Louis L'Amour westerns. My recollection was that they were rather better than one might expect, but I didn't read any as an adult until I wanted to get a feel for the archetypal western, and recalled a scene in one in which a woman kills a thug by stabbing him with a tree branch. Naturally, I wanted to re-read that one, and so asked [livejournal.com profile] whatwasthatbook which one it was. They suggested this one. It's not this one. But it does contain a sixteen-year-old girl single-handedly taking out assorted thugs with her rifle and knife, so I was happy.

Echo Sackett is a Sackett. That means she's a backwoods badass who shoots bears for meat, and also that if she ever gets in trouble, badass Sacketts will come out of the woodwork to kill people for her. She hears that she's inherited some money, and because her badass uncle is laid up after going claw-to-axe with a bear, she sets out for the big city all by herself. Most of the people she meets think she either needs protecting or is is easy picking. The one guy, an elderly but still badass lawyer with a sword cane, who knows she's a Sackett knows otherwise. But since she ends up pursued by a large gang, he sics his cityfied nephew and his friend, a free black man, on her for backup.

The nephew thinks Echo is cute but helpless. Echo knows the nephew is cute but helpless. There is a climactic battle in the woods, in which Echo is helped by her assigned protectors (whom she mostly ends up protecting) and several random Sacketts. But even with this, guess who takes out three thugs single-handed, then returns to finish off the big bad? Echo! Yay! She gets the guy, too. And three thousand dollars and a ruby in a puzzle box. And a dog. Very satisfying.

ETA: If I were to read more by Louis L'Amour, which should I read and why? Kickass women and second sight is good; cringe-worthy portrayals of Indians (or women, etc) are bad.
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