Romance from the American West: Raven Dove

Raven Dove (Whiskey Press, 2005) is an historical romance by Joanne Walpole. Joanne’s first novel shares with us the tragedy and success of Vivien Clinton, a lonely neglected girl in the small town of Wagoner in the American Southwest. Living with her abusive Uncle, Vivien has grown up hiding herself beneath a mask of tomboyish indifference, until the night she meets Gabe Johnson. Gabe, an injured stranger, protects her from her Uncle’s anger and gives her hope for the future. Feeling a connection to the girl, despite the situation in which they meet, Gabe vows to himself that this wraith of a teenager will one day be the woman he marries.

Readers will be captured in the spell Joanne weaves with her realistic portrayal of characters and mesmerising storyline. The protagonist, Vivien Clinton, is a strong, determined young woman. Readers will feel for her in the dismal life she is forced to lead and the decisions she must make if she is ever to escape. We travel along every bumpy road with Vivien as she leaves Wagoner behind after her uncle’s death and arrives in Tucson. Through Vivien’s eyes we share the experience of the carriage ride and meet three of the characters who come to play a part in our heroine’s future. And, as Vivien starts to unravel a mystery she is unknowingly the centre of, we understand her frustration in dealing with the people around her who aren’t being honest with her.

Eventually, Vivien does discover the truth of her life and within a brief time must learn to cope with the lies and deception that have dogged her every day. Joanne Walpole uses the tribulations of Vivien as a means of drawing the reader further into the story with her clever observations of real life combined with solid research into life during the great Western era of the 19th century.

Hope waits behind every despairing moment and readers will be as determined as Vivien that she leave her past behind and find the future she’s dreamed of since the night she fell in love with Gabe Johnson. Her strength of character pulls her through each setback and sets her firmly back on the road to happiness.

And, just as Vivien finds she has friends in strange places, readers will discover the strength and completeness of the supporting characters of Raven Dove. Chad Green is the first of her ‘new’ friends. A local saloonkeeper and businessman, Chad, steers Vivien away from the confusion of her Uncle’s death, and onto the path she must travel. Charlie Jones is a loyal and steadfast young man who supports Vivien regardless the cost and in the face of his family’s displeasure. Peggy Webster is a manipulative woman shaped by her own unhappy past and linked with Vivien in ways that unfold in layers before us. Madeline Bonchance is a successful actress who appears in Vivien’s life for a short time. Yet, when she is kidnapped by Peggy Webster and her son, Luke, Madeline becomes the catalyst for the event that will make or break Vivien’s dreams. Then there’s Gabe Johnson, the stranger who promised her the world and disappeared without a word. His arrival into her new life only adds to the bewilderment she feels. Can she trust him with her future? Is he as trustworthy and solid as she sensed at their last meeting? Does she still love him?

Gabe Johnson is more than the romantic hero, more than a reflection of Vivien’s love and hope. His roundness of character shows us a compassionate man who has faced tragedy and dealt out revenge. A man who rides alone, yet knows what love is, an experience to be shared and treasured.

Through it all is Vivien’s Uncle Pete. A ghost of a figure, shown to the reader through the eyes of the people who knew him. Vivien’s feelings for him are often ambivalent. He is not a nice man, but he too is shaped by the past and even in this unsteady relationship Vivien finds underlying mystery and intrigue. Who was Pete Clinton?

Joanne’s range of characters are woven into a story that traces the journey of Vivien Clinton from innocent child to strong woman. She shares with the reader an understanding of the events that shape peoples lives and brings those events to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. Surprises and twists take shape and burst apart to reveal new surprises and hidden relationships.

The threads of the story come together in a finale worthy of a great western love epic as truth is drawn from the barrel of a smoking gun.

Raven Dove by Joanne Walpole is available from Whiskey Creek Press.


Book Review – Bad Land, An American Romance

Johnathan Raban’s Bad Land: An American Romance brilliantly and descriptively describes the attempts by would-be farmers and ranchers, those of the late 19th Century and the early 20th Century, to make a living on highly questionable land. This land, most of it in eastern Montana and the western Dakotas could have been described as marginal land, but Raban’s fact-finding mission has made it abundantly clear that these lands were less than marginal.

The federal government and railroad companies would benefit by having settlers in this region. Their benefits: There would be more products to ship to and fro and travel to this region would be greatly increased. However, as Raban documents and, I have seen first-hand, this marginal land had shallow topsoil, heavy wind patterns, low precipitation, and extremely frigid winters; and, the efforts to cultivate the arid land were seldom rewarded.

This book was written in a casual, personable manner as the author walked this region and perused some of the failed homesteads. It is drama indeed as Raban explored the remnants of these numerous failed homesteads. He even found a book that described the best method to prosper on these arid farms. The book was entitled Campbell’s Scientific Dry Farming Techniques and it was subtitled The Camel for the Sahara Desert and the Campbell Method for the American Desert. According to meteorological figures any area with an average annual rainfall of less than three inches per year would be classified as a desert region. This eastern Montana region is certainly considered desert as most of it averages less than the three inches of rain per year.

Like Raban, I too, have walked this land, but I walked it for a different reason. I was in search of sharp-tailed grouse and the elusive sage grouse. I was amazed, those many years ago, to have seen so many remnants – remnants of rotted and fallen wind mills, broken and gray boards of outbuildings, barns, and house, as well as, vacated rock foundations, long-rusted barbed wire fencing, fence posts that were rotted and lying flat on the ground, and space – wide open space… endless space. Raban’s book told a story of the many courageous human attempts to produce on this infinitely poor homesteading land, bad land. The government pamphlets and railroad brochures were, no doubt, at least spurious, if not downright lies.

Raban had an inspirational idea to write this story, and he followed through – brilliant inspiration, first-hand research, and highly descriptive writing!