Grant, Peter. Brings the Lightning: The Ames Archives Book 1 (Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2016) print edition
The Western, declared dead by the major publishers (except for the ones churning out pulp series, and the holders of Louis L’Amour’s backlist) lives again in this work, the first in the series.
OK, to get this out of the way first, I was given a copy of the book by the author. It was not in exchange for a review, and I have since bought copies and given them to other people who like westerns. I’m reviewing it now in detail because I bought the sequel as soon as it came out and will be reviewing it tomorrow, and it makes sense to go back and review Vol. 1 for those unfamiliar with the series.
Walt Ames returns to his family farm to discover that the border states remain unsettled, plagued by criminals and memories. His family is safe, and after some thought Walt decides to follow so many others and turns his steps west. He escorts a widowed young lady school-teacher as far as St. Louis, on the way hiring two freedmen. His plan? To do business, and start a fresh life in a place where old hatreds don’t matter, where land is cheap and the future has no limits.
If this sounds a bit like many Louis L’Amour books, and others, well, most westerns start this way (Shalako, The Lonesome Gods, and others differ, but the westering urge is as old as time.) However, Grant’s book grabs you with the details as well as the writing. This story feels true, because he gets so many things right. I’m familiar with much of the physical terrain Walt travels, and it’s right. Ditto the people and the problems. They fit the history. You won’t find some of the awkward anachronisms that make people like me hurl foam balls at the TV screen, or close the book and walk away.
I imagine some readers will reach parts of the book, blink, and say, “That can’t have happened to one person.” Well, yes, it can. The west in 1866 was a small place, and people did get around. Look at people like Jim Bridger (mountain man and trapper), or Charles Goodnight, or others who roamed even more widely. I’ve read their diaries, and their letters, or newspaper stories about them. Such things certainly could happen, especially to a decent, determined man interested in surviving and thriving in a new-to-him world.
Walt is not a saint, and the book is not for those who think all was peace and love after April 1865. That too, alas, is correct. And Walt’s mistakes come back to bite him. He learns quickly, with the help of a woman who makes him determined to do better. That too fits history – strong men did best with strong women at their side. And with other good men helping them.
Peter gets it right. The book can read fast if you follow the adventure, or slowly if the details interest you. Either way, it hits all the notes for a good western, with far better-than-average writing.
Short version: if you like westerns, or if you just like a good story with solid characters in a fascinating place, this is the book for you.
FTC notice: As mentioned before, this book was a gift. I have bought other copies of the book since then, and received no other form of consideration or remuneration from the author or publisher.