Popular perception is that Westerns are out of style for readers. Despite this, Western influences have been appearing in young adult books in recent years. There have been westerns with steampunk elements, those set in dystopian worlds, and even one with zombies. However, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman includes no extras – only the classic settings and tropes. The book opens with, “It weren’t no secrets Pa owned the best plot of land ‘long Granite Creek, and I reckon that’s why they killed him.” Written in a dialect liberally sprinkled with ain’t, yer, and gotta, Vengeance Bound was my first real Western read and I was not originally convinced I was going to enjoy it. Luckily, it is a highly entertaining mystery adventure with propulsive plotting that kept me glued to the page.
Similar in theme to Cormac McCarthy’s True Grit, Vengeance Road follows a young woman thirsting for revenge. After her father is viciously murdered by the Rose Riders gang, eighteen year old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and sets off to track them down. Intelligent, wily, and ruthless, Kate dispatches her first villain ten pages in with a cold-blooded shot to the heart, and steels herself against sentiment throughout the book despite her growing connections to allies met along her journey. Cowboys, grizzled prospectors, a possibility of romance and an Apache guide play important roles, but the core of the story is Kate’s discovery of her father’s lies and family connection to a legendary gold mine. Featuring a journal with mysterious clues, genuine villainy and heroics, and an entirely feminist and capable heroine, adult Western fans and fans of strong female heroines alike should look past the “young adult” label and give Vengeance Bound a look.