Book Review: Ride to Raton by Marsha Ward

Book:  Ride to Raton
Author: Marsha Ward
Pages: 222
Format: Paperback, Kindle/ebook
Publisher: iUniverse (November 2003)
Book Source: Provided by Author
Category: Historical Fiction, Western
Style: Character-driven, action, some violence

Synopsis from GoodReads:

After losing the heart of his fiancee to his brother, James Owen leaves home to make a new life for himself. The turbulent world of post-Civil War Colorado Territory is fraught with danger and prejudice that increase his bitter loneliness as personal setbacks threaten to break him. Then James's journey brings him into contact with another wayfarer, beautiful young Amparo Garces, who has come from Santa Fe to Colorado to marry a stranger. read more . . . 

My Take:

The second installment of The Owen Family Saga, Ride to Raton picks up where The Man From Shenandoah left off. It follows jilted James Owen as he storms away from the wedding of his brother and Ellen, the women to whom he had been betrothed, albeit an arrangement between parents. Not quite out of his teens, hostile and belligerent James shakes the dust from his feet as he leaves his family behind him.

His professed intent the gold fields north of Denver, James narrowly escapes not only death and marriage in Pueblo, scarcely a day's ride from his home. He then heads south in search of work and is again waylaid by a corpse and a promise. He finds one put upon young Latina patiently awaiting the opportunity to sacrifice herself to an arranged marriage, standing in the way of fulfillment of that vow.

James' desperate need for a purpose latches on to the plight of the beautiful Amparo who refuses to go anywhere without first throwing her wifely duty upon the altar of matrimony. James vows to wed in name only. Neither speaks the other's language. Heavy breathing ensues.

Here I must compare Ride to Raton to the 1969 New York Mets who, running in last place for most of the season, made a miraculous comeback to win the World Series in a most dramatic fashion. (And, I only know this because I've seen Men in Black III). Ride to Raton had wound down to three stars by the last quarter when Ms. Ward finally hit her stride and redeemed the entire book.

Visit for more picture of Raton Pass
In the first half of the book, the pacing is as slow-going as James' progress through the southwestern Colorado territory. He spends a great deal of time getting shot and otherwise roughed up and, ironically, recovering with speed bordering on the miraculous before he goes of to get injured again. His trip south to Santa Fe with Amparo drags on with bad weather, miscommunication, language lessons, and James inevitable spiritual healing. However, I'm still disappointed that Ms. Ward failed to explore the complexity between the two brothers that could have developed in The Man From Shenandoah. Instead, she allowed the conflict to simply fade away.

It is not until the couple again head north that this book comes alive and truly engages the reader. Here not only does the pacing pick up and the action become compelling, but the sensibilities ring true, as do their motivations. The characters grow more complex and of deeper dimension. Here the reader engages with the story so profoundly, the last 25% of the book makes up from the tepid beginning. When the reader reaches the last page, the outcome really matters.

Despite Ms. Ward's enthusiastic taking to similes like a pig to a wallow, stumbling over her particular gift, the turn of phrase, continues to delight. Consider "It was nearly noon, with the November sun pouting on the breast of a hazy sky." Or, my particular favorite:
Sunset encroached upon daylight like a powder burst from the mouth of a crimson cannon—orange and gold ribbons shot forth to wage a battle against the clouds. The western horizon was obscured by a glow like a living thing.
How many sunsets have I seen exactly like that and haven't been able to find the words to describe it?

Bottom line:  Despite the uneven pacing, Ms. Ward's perceptive and intelligent writing continues to engage the reader and compel her stories forward. In addition to the perils which the pair suffer, the relationship which evolves between her two protagonists and the intricacies of their characters make Ride to Raton well worth the personal investment. The reader will find themselves reaching for the sequel, Trail of Storms, scarcely before the last page is turned.

FTC disclaimer:  An electronic copy of this book was provided to me by the author or their agent with the understanding I would provide a fair and honest review.  I receive no other compensation for this content.

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