Vengeance Road, the breakout YA western with a jaw-dropping cover, was one of my favorite books of late. When I heard how Erin Bowman was writing a companion novel, titled Retribution Rails, I lost it. I preordered it and set the release date in my calendar nine months in advance.
On her newsletter, I found out that I could have the chance to receive an ARC, in physical or e-galley form - and I did! I jumped on the chance to read this book. I absolutely devoured it - YA Western might be a genre I need to get my feet wet in now.
This is mostly attributed to how it lagged in the middle. The end and beginning were strong, action-packed, and poignant. When Reece, Charlotte, and Kate arrived at the homestead in the mountains is when the pace and even the passage of time itself in the novel came to a screeching halt. While there was some good character conflict there, there was too long of a break between action scenes in the middle. However, I adored seeing Kate and Jesse again.
1. Charlotte's Conflict
While I flipped back and forth between whether I liked Charlotte or not, she made her own conflict seem petty at times. The resolution to her conflict, while it made sense, I didn't much like it. It came a bit too early and was astoundingly abrupt.
2. Hints at Romance
While this didn't come up until about halfway through the book, I still didn't like it. The problem was, was that I saw their dynamic and wanted them to kind of 'pride & prejudice' it out, which they did. However, I never shipped them or saw them as a good couple. I wanted them to become good friends and be able to depend on each other. This would have better fit their established relationship dynamic.
1. Character Arcs
As always, Erin Bowman is phenomenal at writing character arcs. Reece's redemption arc was sympathetic and emotional and perfect, and even Charlotte's arc evolved naturally and came to a satisfying conclusion. It was great to look back and see how much they had changed over the course of the story. I'm such a sucker for good character arcs and development, and this took front and center stage, for a good reason. The conversations that developed the character conflicts were stellar. It really does make these stories stand out, especially in a world where there isn't much character development or it doesn't take center stage.
Another amazing thing about Erin's stories is how quickly she developed Reece's and Charlotte's voices. From their slang, sentence structure, and vocabulary, she is able to build characters within a few words and let us jump inside their head. I never forgot who was talking, and with multiple POVs, that can be a problem. As someone who loves to write in multiple POVs, hats off!
3. The End
The climax was perfectly paced and perfectly timed, unlike Vengeance Road. It was heart-pounding and poetic and action-packed. The train scene was phenomenal and intense. Reece killing Rose was emotional and flawless. The denouement was bittersweet and amazing as we watched the characters move on. The whole ending section was flawless. Just flawless.
I can't say whether I like Retribution Rails better than Vengeance Road. But for now, they rank as equals. Erin Bowman, keep writing Westerns, because I'll keep devouring them!
8.75/10 would recommend.