Historical Fiction: The Western Frontier

I’ve got to admit that I am one of the lucky ones to not be drastically impacted by the current pandemic and it’s fallout and restrictions. I say current because given the nature of this virus and the information surrounding it’s evolution that I’m afraid that we’re likely to be faced with similar health threats moving forward. Perhaps it will be our new reality – waiting for the next one. The Spanish philosopher and novelist George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.” Unfortunately looks like he was right and it seems that I am seeing mistakes on an endless loop. A bit of the Wild West, if you may.

Since this all started we’ve been watching a lot more television be it cable or from streaming services than I have in a long time (admittedly I am just as likely to have my nose in my kindle at the same time as I am half listening or looking up to check out the scene). Amongst the popular contemporary fare like Bosch, Star Trek: Picard we’ve also checked out more historical fiction and documentaries including westerns like Hell on Wheels – chockfull of the American West, railroads, outlaws, sex, romance, vengeance and violence.  And yes, there is some great lesfic that has all of these elements.

Just as I don’t watch a lot of historical fiction and westerns (for the sake of this blog that would be stories set in Western North America, particularly in the1800’s and 1900’s) they make up a rather small percentage of the books that I read. That said, I have read some wonderful ones (well written and researched, authentic – bringing the past to life on its pages with engaging plots and characters) and that makes me wonder Why so few? In part I suspect because they do make up a very small percentage of lesfic and probably because I don’t consciously search them out.  As for why so few are out there … I do have my suspicions.

512hxT1vrJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOne of the first westerns that I can remember reading is Penny Hayes’ Yellow Throat (1988). I ended up going back and reading The Long Trail (1986) and later on Hayes’ other classic western Grassy Flats (1992). All were first published by Naiad Press and then later re-edited and re-released by Bella Books. These were pretty much the first lesfic western genre novels published and although the author wrote a number of other novels I would consider these her best and classics in the genre. Yellow Throat is set in the gold rush days and features Margarita, bent on revenging the death of her husband, as the only female in a band of stagecoach robbing outlaws. When one of the band is injured during a bank robbery they are forced to take Julia Blake hostage. And well, things evolve, just as they are apt to do in lesfic.

A discussion about classic westerns cannot be complete without Jae’s Oregon Series. On pretty much every list of the top westerns (historical or contemporary) I’m not sure I can say anything that hasn’t been said before about Jae’s body of work or this series specifically.  All five books (three novels, a short story and a collection of short stories) 51smAh4nIrL.jpghave won numerous awards – including (with the exception of the short story) a GCLS Award each. Well researched with historic details seamlessly interspersed within engaging stories and sporting well developed main and secondary characters the series begins in Backwards to Oregon (Book 1) with Luke and Nora (along with her young daughter Amy) navigating their way through “2,000 miles, raging rivers, searing heat and tender love” during the 1850’s across the American West. In Hidden Truths (Book 3) we meet back up with the Hamiltons seventeen years later. Each of them has a secret – all is skillfully revealed. Book 2 of the series, Beyond The Trail, is a collection that gives us six short stories about the main and supporting characters from Backwards to Oregon and it is a joy to get more details about or catch up on the characters. There is a short story focused on Amy for Book 4 and finally we have Shaken to the Core that is set in San Francisco during the great earthquake of 1906. Although it focuses on the story of Kate and Giuliana it also features a descendant of Luke and Nora – Doctor Lucy Sharpe. Not all readers like the appearance of characters (or as in this case relatives) from other books into subsequent novels – but it is something I quite enjoy. The first two books have been rereleased and all the novels are now available in audio format.

518yfVknQhL.jpgSomewhere Between Love and Justice (Sarah Sawyer #1) by S.W. Andersen was well reviewed and available on Kindle Unlimited so I thought Hey, nothing to lose – this sounds great, I’ll give it a try. It lived up to its reviews and marks the beginning of a very satisfying reading experience as I watch out for new works by the author. This is the story of Jo and Sarah during a time of the lawlessness and ruthlessness of the “old west”. It was a good length and had interesting, sympathetic yet complex main characters while the supporting cast also had depth and added to the storyline. Andersen follows this one up with The Price of Payback (Sarah Sawyer #2). Set one year later, it continues Sarah and Jo’s story while adding new characters and intrigue as Sarah’s past does come back to haunt them.

As usual there is never enough time to go into detail about other novels that fall within this month’s blog topic. Others that I consider deserving of mention for your reading pleasure (in no particular order) include Brenda Adcock’s Soiled Dove; Paulette Callen’s Charity Series: Charity and Fervent Charity; Sarah Goodwin’s Night Fires in the Distance Series: Night Fires in the Distance, Smoke Through the Pines and One Nation Afire; Radclyffe’s Prairie Hearts Series: Innocent Hearts and Promising Hearts; D. Jordan Redhawk’s Alaskan Bride; and Missouri Vaun’s Crossing the Wide Forever.

If you want to weigh in on any of the above, or have some favourites not listed here, please feel free to share with us in the comments area.

Stay Safe.

3 comments

  1. My other literary passion! Westerns! I completely agree, Jae’s “Oregon” series is one of the best out there. I’ve read (and loved) Redhawk’s “Alaskan Bride” as well. I’ll make a note to read the others.
    In the vein of Old West tales, I’ve written a short lesfic story myself. ‘Undercover Justice’.
    There just isn’t enough Western lesfic out there.
    Thanks for your recommendations, I’ll go look those up now!

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  2. I’ve read all the books you’ve mentioned except for Sarah Goodwin so I’ve bought them today because they sound good.
    Thank you for the recommendation. Loved Jae’s Backward to Oregon.

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    • Thanks for weighing in again Margaret. Loved the entire Oregon Trail series (and all of her other stuff too of course). I was pleasantly surprised and absolutely loved Charity.

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