is my first read of Louis L'Amour. I liked it, but didn't love it. LL handles romance clumsily at best. His soulmate appears to be a woman willing to handle guns and kill people alongside her man. "I always said that I wanted a woman to walk beside me, not behind me," says main protagonist and narrator Barnabas Sackett. I agree! I just prefer that "walking beside" never involve his-and-her swashbuckling and gunplay.
LL writes like the manliest of men. It's as if Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation
developed a passion for writing Western fiction. Short sentences, little fluff, feats of strength. Here's a testosterone-laden example:
The Indians were of short stature, and only a few of them were muscular except with the long, lean muscles that indicate the runner. At wrestling I had no doubt I could best any one of them, perhaps any two.
And another one:
"You believe in heroes?" Corvino looked at [Jublain] thoughtfully.
"I cannot believe in anything else. A man needs heroes. He needs to believe in strength, nobility and courage. Otherwise we become sheep to be herded to the slaughterhouse of death. I believe this. I am a soldier. I try to fight for the right cause. Sometimes it is hard to know.
"But I do not sit back and sneer in cowardice at those with the courage to fight. The blood of good men makes the earth rich, as it is here. When I die sword in hand, I hope someone lives to sing of it. I live my life so that when death comes I may die well. I ask no more."
Strength, courage, making war, heroic behavior, honor, integrity, deep friendships, willingness to die for the right cause - these are some of LL's markers of a good manly life. Some of these resonate with me, others give me more than a little pause. LL's prose smells of musk, cigars, and scotch. I really did have fun reading Sackett's Land
Putting fun aside, LL's/Sackett's take on contact between colonists and native populations saddens me: "[W]hen two peoples come together that one which is most efficient will survive, and the other will absorb or vanish... it is the way of life." Genocide as inevitable? Might or greater efficiency makes right? Not in my world. In this instance, LL plays the role of apologist for colonial policies and settler behavior toward the native populations.
LL's explanation in the Preface of the "distinctive type" of the American pioneer - "physical strength, the capacity to endure, and not uncommonly, a rebellious nature" - is also informative. LL depicts the settling of the United States as a strong, durable, rebellious (efficient?) population of settlers meeting and overwhelming a "savage", physically and mentally "weaker" (inefficient?) native population. According to LL, the takeover of the nation is inevitable and apparently the right thing for pioneering, enterprising people to do. I disagree completely. LL's a pro-settler propagandist, and he does his job of myth-making well.
Read this one with your skeptical, questioning mind engaged, and enjoy the adventure! Western fiction can be both mentally stimulating and fun.