The Chisholm Trail Bride
This is the first novel I’ve read by Kathleen Y’Barbo, and I can see why she’s a bestselling author – she’s a good storyteller. Each of her characters is drawn with descriptive detail, and she has a deft way of weaving romance and adventure together. The Chisholm Trail Bride is one of several books the author has penned for the popular Daughters of the Mayflower series, sharing the romance and history of descendants of the Mayflower pilgrims. Each book, including this one, is designed to be read as a standalone.
At the age of twelve, Galveston native Eliza Jane Gentry is given the distinct honor of joining a cattle drive along the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas. Her mother lodges strong objections for Eliza is a young woman and should be ‘finished’, not play cook’s assistant with a bunch of cowboys. Eliza’s dreams include going to school to study the skies above and her beloved stars, but right now she excels at finding trouble alongside her brothers or dear friend Wyatt Creed. She has no desire to be finished, marry, and tend babies, a chore she finds tedious.
Wyatt Creed joins the trail ride with his father, a Texas Ranger of some renown. Aged fourteen, Wyatt is determined to be a Texas Ranger, tracking outlaws and bringing them to justice. He’s beginning to feel it’s time to be done with a pest like Eliza, although he does enjoy her company. He and Eliza have watched the stars and meteor showers together, and Wyatt even bought her a book illustrating the heavens.
Another young teen, Ben Barnhardt, has been sent on the drive by his father to learn the meaning of “real work”. Instead Ben shirks work when he can and bends everyone’s ears with his bragging. In his overblown sense of superiority, he feels no girl can resist him and being that Eliza is the only girl on the drive, he insists she is sweet on him and one day will marry him. Eliza scoffs and rejects both notions out of hand. Somewhere north of Waco, a murder in the night turns the cattle drive from a youthful adventure into tragedy and shifts the trajectory of these three lives forever.
It’s not until nine years later that events conspire to bring the riders on the trail drive back into each other’s orbits. Eliza still grieves the loss of her friend Wyatt, one of the casualties on that murderous night, and hasn’t watched the stars since. Ben still wears his cloak of superiority, has political ambitions, and makes Eliza an offer of marriage. Suspicious of Ben’s intentions, Eliza’s father hires a detective team to protect her, but the lead detective reminds Eliza hauntingly of Wyatt, opening old wounds along with fond memories. What unfolds is a story of honor and friendship, family secrets, and betrayal until Eliza looks up and discovers her forever love.
I loved the author’s style. In the main characters’ viewpoints, the rhythm and language often read like a first-person perspective, a technique lent a ‘looking through the eyes of the beholder’ quality to the narrative that was immediate and powerful. The book uses a coming-of-age trope with a lengthened time period – we see the characters grow to adults – to show us the core of each individual and to watch as they grow. While they may take a wrong turn or behave in ways seemingly contrary to their norm, that core personality remains the base of their maturing into love and adulthood. In the second half of the book, however, it was occasionally unclear who was speaking and, combined with some inconsistency in identifying to whom a character might be referring, was enough to drop me out of the story momentarily – but it was a relatively small bump in the writing flow.
The faith element in The Chisholm Trail Bride is offered with a gentle touch. In the lives of Eliza and her friends and family, God is close at hand. He is seen in the heavens Eliza views, a faithful supporter to lean on, and an unseen director of life’s flow. Prayers and reading the Bible are viewed as routine and help people stay on God’s path for them. Throughout the book, the author illustrates lives of faith without preaching.
For The Chisholm Trail Bride I can say saddle up your favorite e-reader or pack the paperback. Find a comfy chair and get ready for a Western romance full of adventure, history, and faith with an intriguing cast of characters. It’s going to be a good ride.