Book Review: The Man from Shenandoah by Marsha Ward

Book: The Man From Shenandoah
Author: Marsha Ward
Pages: 246
Format: Paperback, Kindle/ebook
Publisher: iUniverse (January 2003)
Book Source: Provided by Author
Category: Historical Fiction, Western
Style: Character-driven

Synopsis from Amazon:

Carl Owen returns from the Civil War to find the family farm destroyed, his favorite brother dead, food scarce, and his father determined to leave the Shenandoah Valley to build a cattle empire in Colorado Territory. Crossing the continent, Carl falls in love with his brother's fiance√© while set to wed another girl, but he might lose everything if the murderous outlaw Berto Acosta has his way. Carl battles a band of outlaws, a prairie fire, blizzards, a trackless waterless desert, and his own brother—all for the hand of feisty Ellen Bates.

My Take:

The Owen family is large, with five living sons and two daughters, having put two sons in the ground during the Civil War. With the final return of the four soldiers of the family (Rulon, Carl, James, and father Rod), the family decides to leave their farm in the Shenandoah Valley, destroyed by the Union Army, and set off to Colorado territory to raise beef cattle.

Rod sets about gathering up families (including Rulon and his wife) to make up a wagon train, two of whom conveniently have daughters for Carl and James. Without letting on to the boys, he arranges for the marriages to take place the evening before they hit the trail. However, his plans are foiled when the preacher is called away to a dying woman's side. The two couple are forced to make the journey unhitched. Conflicts ensue.

This story centers on Carl who is engaged to Ida, and Ellen, who is engaged to James. The characterizations are somewhat predictable. Carl is noble if hot-blooded. Blonde Ida is shallow, manipulative and grasping. James is dutiful, hardworking and angry. Redhead Ellen is feisty, outspoken and, paradoxically, silently self-sacrificing. Rod goes around arranging everyone's lives with seemingly little thought and only token resistance from his long-suffering wife, Julia.

They say that only a few 19th century pioneers traveling through the western frontier ever suffered the harrowing experiences of the likes of the Donner Party or the Willie & Martin handcart companies. By and large, most journeys were long, boring days of drudgery, an extended if demanding camp-out. The Man From Shenandoah seems to have taken its cue from that particular truth.  The Owen wagon train doesn't even encounter any Indians.

The book is a pleasant, casual read which requires little emotional investment. The characters are likable, the plots uncomplicated. Unlike These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner, the reader is not left panting for breath at the end of every chapter, begging for a bit of respite. Despite the war, the outlaws, the carpetbaggers, the Union soldiers, the blizzards, and the unending toil, the lives of the Owen family go on rather smoothly, right down to the timely windfalls that make everything possible. Although the Big Bad Evil comes in the form of murderous cattle rustlers and Berto Acosta, by far the most promising (in a literary sense) conflict rests between the two brothers, Carl and James. Unfortunately, Ms. Ward doesn't get there in this book.

The Man From Shenandoah is intelligent and well-written, if paced a bit slow here and there. The plot is believable and the characters well-defined. Ms. Ward embraces the themes of family, honor and sacrifice with certainty. Filial obedience, a foreign concept in the 21st century, finds its place and its justification in the Owen family.

Ms. Ward masterfully transports the reader to the 19th century.  She manages authenticity without assaulting the reader with obscenities and constant sexual innuendo. Her her calm, even voice with a slight country twang rings true. Her writing creates a safe and engaging environment for youth which at the same time satisfies the adult reader.

Bottom line: Ms. Ward has provided me with a pleasing introduction to the Western genre. I enjoyed reading this book and have already started the second installment of the Owens Family Saga, Ride to Raton.

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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