As anyone who has ever read my Submission Guidelines knows, apart from Weird Westerns, the Western Genre just isn’t my thing. Usually. But when a short Western novel starring a transgender protagonist set in the late 1800’s landed in my inbox, I just had to check it out.
I’m glad I did.
A Land of Iron by Alex Washoe is an epic family drama starring a twin brother and sister, Rebecca and Lucas Westbrooke. Lucas being the aforementioned transgendered character. Their relationship forms the backbone of the drama, even after the murder that sends the plot moving perpetually forward.
But let me back up a bit. The book opens with Rebecca attempting to train a young mustang colt she named Rayo and getting knocked flying in the process. The town banker (and friend of her deceased father) shows up to ask her if she needs a new foreman. They just keep quitting because of threats to their families, and has a half-Mexican half-white woman, Rebecca just can’t command the respect of the ranch hands. She decides she’s going to take over anyway because she doesn’t want to just marry Ned Finch, the rancher next door and new head of the second powerful family in the town triad.
Then we meet Lucas. Born Lucy Westbrooke, he fled his town of birth after his father did something terrible to him to try and force an identity that was never his. We find him playing cards with his dear friend, Watson, a writer who came to the town to find out about the rivalry and land seizure from the early settlers perpetuated by the Westbrookes, Finches, and Bannermans one generation ago. Turns out, things may not have been the way Lucas’s father told the stories.
The next day, Rebecca discovers Lucas has returned and goes to the saloon where he’s staying to confront him. During their argument, they discover a body stabbed with their dead father’s knife. Poor Watson.
I can’t say too much more without spoilers, but I will say the relationships between the characters really are the beating heart of this work. Lucas and Rebecca learning to accept one another, as well as their own identities as a trans man in a newly blooming relationship and a half-breed (book’s words, not mine) woman now in charge of a massive ranch, as well as the way their father’s past haunts the background of both the town and the characters’ minds, create an engaging conflict that props up the expected gunfights and plot twists.
The writing is crisp and clean, with a few sentence fragments sprinkled in as a stylistic choice and few if any typos. It’s the first in a series, with a promise for a sequel later this year. It’s rare for me to pick up a book in this genre that I can stand to read, let alone finish, but I found I really cared about the characters by the end.
For that alone this one gets a 5/5. If you’re into Westerns or even just historical fiction, it belongs in your Kindle Library.