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In Sagebrush & Lace (Banty Hen Publishing), the writing team of Ryder and Cutler introduces us to Samantha Williams and Charlotte Hart, two women who conspire to flee their lives of comfort in Chicago during the late 1870s and escape the prospect of an arranged marriage for Samantha. That the women have no idea what they’re getting into when they strike out alone is an understatement. Their learning curve is fast and their fugitive status is established even faster. Adventure abounds as the two are tracked by Pinkerton detectives, attacked by renegades, and helped by madams, journalists and lawmen as they make their way across the plains toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the freedom of a bohemian life in San Francisco.
The story is well written, with Sam as the tough butch type who does everything she can to protect the more demure Charlotte. The two have been friends since childhood, and their friendship has blossomed into something more. Sam and Charlotte have talked about striking out on their own for a long time, but when Sam must escape or marry, she says it’s time. Charlotte isn’t sure. When she expresses her reservations, Sam decides with or without Charlotte, she must go. However, at the last minute, Charlotte decides to join Sam, and they set off on a journey the likes of which they never could have imagined.
As they zigzag over the plains, they stop along the way, mostly looking for help. During their journey, they cross paths with the most famous of the Wild West’s characters—almost all of them. Because of this, the reader may raise an eyebrow over how likely it would be that the women would encounter a steady stream of the old West’s superstars who were around at the time in which the story is set. However, it must be noted that without these encounters, the women probably wouldn’t have survived as well as they did on their journey. The book is billed as a young adult story, so presenting the women in the context of the superheroes of yesteryear probably makes sense. It is evident that the authors have done quite a bit of research for the story and there is an “afterword,” which explains liberties taken with characters and locations.
In this story, not only is their adversity to be overcome in the form of escaping marauding outlaws and fleeing the detective contracted to bring the women back to their families, but they must also learn to defend themselves, bury a friend, interact with Indians, and perform in a sort of wild west show of their own invention to pay their way across the country. Although the story content is well written, there are some editing deficiencies. Sentences have extra words or words are out of order, clearly as a result of the editing process. These were not caught and corrected prior to publication. However, the frequency of these issues is not such that it should scare away a reader who appreciates a romantic fantasy set in the Old West, where two women work to overcome patriarchal oppression to find their way in the world, becoming stronger in the process. Ryder and Cutler tell a good story with strong characters with a fine balance of exposition and dialogue.
This young adult story of two women seeking independence and a life together as they trek across the plains toward California will appeal to any age. Its lesson is one of endurance and tenacity as well as one of love and respect. In spite of the adversity the two women encounter, their story is full of adventure and entertaining characters. Plus, you never know who they’ll meet next!
Sagebrush & Lace
By Sugar Lee Ryder and J.D. Cutler
Banty Hen Publishing
Paperback, 9781475260182, 305 pp.