Author: Marsha Ward
Publisher: iUniverse (March 2009)
Book Source: Provided by Author
Style: Compelling, some violence, rare profanity
Synopsis from GoodReads:
After her sister suffers a brutal attack, Jessie Bingham and her family flee post-Civil War Virginia and endure a perilous trek to New Mexico Territory. When she hears her former sweetheart, James Owen, has taken a wife, Jessie accepts Ned Heizer's marriage proposal on the condition they wait until journey's end to wed. But then Jessie encounters James again . . . read more . . .Spoiler Disclaimer: Unlike Ride to Raton in relation to The Man From Shenandoah, it is very difficult to review Trail of Storms without risking the revelation of key plot developments of Road to Raton. I shall do my utmost, but I can't guarantee anything. If you have not read Road to Raton, be forewarned.
My Take:Trail of Storms is Book 3 of The Owen Family Saga. Six years elapsed between the publishing of volumes 2 and 3, but Ms. Ward picks right up from where she left off in the powerful ending of Ride to Raton. However, she leaves the James Owen, et al, in Colorado territory and whisks us back to the Shenandoah Valley where the left-behind Bingham family is suffering their own misfortunes. The Yankee occupiers continue to oppress the little town of Mount Jackson, rapscallions and scallywags carry on an unchecked reign of terror.
Ms. Ward comes out swinging in Chapter One and the reader knows she has finally hit her stride. With the oldest sister, Hannah scarcely clinging to life and sanity after a brutal sexual assault, her husband, Robert Fletcher, in danger of the hangman's noose and/or mob justice, the fatherless Bingham-Fletcher clan escape from the Yankees in the night. Sister Heppie leaves behind her beau, George Heizer, who lingers behind to care for his ailing brother, Ned, who has yet to return from his stint as an officer in the Union Army. Youngest sister, Jessica, proves the strength of the family when everyone else falls to pieces although she secretly pines for James Owen who abandoned her when he left for Colorado territory more than a year gone. Mrs. Bingham and teenaged Luke round out the cast.
Trail of Storms gives the reader plenty to chew on, plenty to care about, and real, honest, painfully raw issues that have no easy answers. Anger, fear, hatred and anguish all assault the family and the reader. One flinches with the blows that are landed on George as the hoodlums attempt to extract information from him. One's nerves grow taut as Jessica stares down the barrel of a shotgun at the rapist's cronies bent on revenge and feel her crises of conscience as she struggles with the consequences of her choices.
Just a note or two: As in her previous two novels, Ms. Ward struggles a bit with pacing in the middle, (I really don't care how chairs were arranged at a dinner table); like Ride to Raton, the Law/Army remain conspicuously absent and/or uninterested in the various murders, assaults, and other criminal activities both in Virginia and out in the frontier; and money and food never truly become a pressing issue. (A few weeks of work in Saint Louis set the family up with Conestoga wagons, mules and draft horses for the long trek across the plains).
I also find it somewhat annoying that whenever the Binghams run into people from Mount Jackson, either they barely recognize them after only a year's absence, or introductions have to be made all over again. The Binghams were bakers and the Hilbrands owned the general store in the town. Why would they not instantly recognize one another?
However, these issues (I always have pet peeves, it seems) easily pale when compared to the compelling drama embellished with such gems of phrases as "stinging his face and his dignity." And then,
He stood as tall as he could, considering that his soul was bent over, crouching and curling into a ball at having to admit the truth.Finally, unlike the first two installments of the Owen Family Saga, parents should use caution and first read this book before turning it over to their children. It contains mature subject matter, particularly in the first two chapters. However, Trail of Storms can also be used as a door to conversation, particularly when discussing such subjects as rape, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion with older teenagers. Ms. Ward handles many of these issues with the frankness young adults crave but also with the sensitivity and circumspection parents will appreciate.
Bottom Line: This is a very fast, easy read with periods of emotional intensity and disturbing violence. Parents are advised to use caution. However, the mature themes are treated skillfully to tell a compelling, emotionally engaging story. I eagerly await the release of Ms. Ward's next installment of The Owen Family Saga, A Spinster's Folly.
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.