Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Trail of Storms by Marsha Ward, a Review
A couple years ago—or maybe it was three—I listened to Marsha Ward read a chapter she had just finished for the third book in her saga about the Owen family. I hadn’t yet read Man from Shenandoah or Ride to Raton, the first two books in the series, and so couldn’t appreciate the background. What I did appreciate was Marsha’s knowledge of life in the 19th century and how she was able to build tension with a few well placed words.
I think Trail of Storms is Marsha Ward’s best book to date. The years she has spent honing her craft show as she has become a better writer with each book in the series. This book takes off like a scalded hound and never lets up, pulling the reader through one adventure after another as the Bingham family travels west after the Civil War. Jessie Bingham is the sweetheart James Owen, bowing to pressure from his father, left behind when his family went west.
Here’s a part of what I heard Marsha read that summer three years ago:
From behind, noise pounded on the prairie like another roll of thunder. Heppie looked over her shoulder. What new danger was upon them? A horse approached with Ned bent low over its neck, driving forward to catch up to the runaway wagon. He passed Heppie. Clods of earth fell around her, stirred up by the horse’s hooves. A small chunk of sod hit her cheek, sticking in place, and she batted it as if it were a bug. She had to see what was happening to George.
She realized she was running, half falling over the furrows of churned-up earth left behind by hooves and wheels. Her throat felt raw, filled with her high, keening cry. Her lungs burned as she filled them with air that seemed to have been singed by the lightning. The wagon was so far away!
Another horse blew by, whipping up a dust cloud, pressing the thick yellow air against her. Mr. Fletcher. Luke sprinted by, his arms pumping with effort. She squinted her eyes, trying to find the wagon. Trying to see George.
At last she broke out of the dust. Ahead of her, the wagon lay on its side at the end of a plowed-up rut in the earth, one wheel smashed, the other spinning crazily. Ned Heizer and Robert Fletcher were off their mounts, struggling with horses thrashing on the ground. Luke ran towards them. Where was George?
Raindrops began to pelt her—needles on her flesh—but she kept running. Was George under the wagon? Her head seemed to reel as the storm grew in ferocity. Someone was screaming, “George!” over and over. She finally recognized her own voice.
See what I mean? I held my breath as I read through that passage.
Though this book begins with the story of Jessie Bingham and her family, when they meet up with James Owen, it becomes his story. That was okay with me, because I knew him from Ride to Raton, but I think it would be all right for someone who hadn’t read Marsha’s other books, too, because she gives the reader necessary tidbits of the back story as she goes. Also, though each book in the series may highlight one person, it’s actually about the family and the adventures they go through.
There are lots of adventures for the Bingham family in this book. It begins with the rape of Jessie’s sister by a Union soldier, which precipitates the decision to leave the South. Jessie, thinking she would never see James Owen again, accepts the marriage proposal of another man. When she does meet with her former sweetheart, she finds he is lost in grief for the wife he just buried. There’s more: pursuit by some ex-Union soldiers, a child born en route, a meeting with a group of Mormons on their way to Zion, rescue from a snowstorm by a Spanish Don.
Marsha Ward does a great job of putting you in the place and time and making you care about the families you’re reading about. That’s storytelling at its best.
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