4 out of 4 stars
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The Wounded Breed by James S. Kelly is a novel of historical fiction set in the U.S. West. Using the timeframe of 1890 to 1900, The Wounded Breed is a mash-up of genres which tackles some very modern issues such as land rights, overuse of military power, the swaying of public opinion by “fake news” reports, and discrimination.
Set in the years following the massacre at Wounded Knee, the novel follows several characters. Tommy Sanchez is the half-Sioux, half-Mexican rancher who is the main character. He is portrayed as a fearless warrior, following in the footsteps of his father, the famed Chief, Sitting Bull. Tommy’s wife, Sarah Sanchez, is a white woman who earlier in her life had been kidnapped by the Sioux and wed Crazy Horse. After Crazy Horse’s death, Sarah is free to leave the Sioux, and through a series of events she and Tommy meet and marry. Together they run a successful ranch in Santa Ynez, California. Their household and ranch come under scrutiny after a local townsman is murdered, and one of Sanchez’s cowhands, Raul, is accused of the crime. The story also contains the point of view of the killer, whom I will not mention here, and his reasons for the murder.
Mr. Kelly has written a Western which reads as part alternative history, part murder mystery, with a wee bit of 1900s CSI thrown in. In The Wounded Breed, he has re-imagined the American West as a place where those of Mexican and Native American heritage have a real chance at the American dream, instead of merely existing as a footnote to the expansion of the country. I rather enjoyed how Mr. Kelly has envisioned Tommy Sanchez as a Western version of Bruce Wayne. By day Sanchez runs a thriving business enterprise, by night he is known to fight injustice with an expertly placed Sioux arrow. I was also fond of the story of Sarah Sanchez’s life with the Sioux and how the author wove other historical elements of life in the Sioux nation into the murder mystery. Without giving spoilers, I think it is safe to say that the main antagonist has a significant relationship to the Sioux and their devastating losses at Wounded Knee.
I found the novel well written and edited. There were very few errors of any kind, and for the most part, the narrative was easy to follow and straightforward. I think many people will enjoy the depiction of 1900 California, especially lovers of historical fiction, westerns, and even mystery readers. The setting and story impressed me so much, that I found myself doing research online to learn more.
There were two main flaws I found with this novel. First, the author gives away the murderer’s identity too soon. The plot would have been much more suspenseful if he had simply left that detail until the end. I know that some mystery writers make this choice, and though I don’t agree, there was enough suspense in the novel to keep me reading, so I will not deduct any stars for this.
The second flaw is one that is common to Indie novelists which I find irksome. There is too much narration and dumping of backstory, without direct action by the characters themselves. For example, we are told of Sarah Sanchez’s kidnap by the Sioux, but there are virtually no scenes depicting what she went through, or what she thought or felt during those years. Later in the novel, one character is repeatedly described by others to be quite upset because her fiancé (Raul) is on trial for murder, but there is not one scene or one line of dialog from her expressing this. Additionally, Raul is described by others as being a difficult client during his trial, but there is not one word from Raul as to why. The novel would have been so much more satisfying if the characters had been developed a bit more, allowing me to get to know them better through their own actions and dialog. However, I don’t believe that most readers are put off by my pet peeve, so I did not deduct any stars.
The only other criticism I have is that at times Mr. Kelly uses phrases that seem anachronistic. For example, he calls Sarah’s daughter a “single parent” and later uses the phrase “basket case.” I don’t believe either of these phrases would have been used in 1900.
All in all, I think The Wounded Breed is an entertaining novel with enough character development to make me want to follow the plights of Tommy, Sarah, their children, and even the killer. I recommend this to all readers, but I think historical fiction and mystery readers will especially enjoy it. The violence is not graphic, so I think this novel is fine for teen and pre-teen readers. The few missing commas and occasional anachronism are easy to overlook and do not detract from the story. Therefore, I rate The Wounded Breed a 4 out of 4 stars.
The Wounded Breed
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