Trail of Storms
By Marsha Ward
Trail of Storms, written by award-winning author, Marsha Ward, is her third novel about the Owen family in her post-Civil War series. Marshaling adept storytelling with an intimate understanding of her subject matter, Ward delivers loyal fans an exciting continuation of the series, while new readers will rate Trail of Storms a satisfying stand-alone read that will send them back for more.
Prepare to be transported to another time . . . another place. Ward’s grasp of western dialect and culture is like a set of old leather reins in her skilled hands, driving her story’s authenticity. The book opens with Jesse Bingham and her sisters on a tense Virginia day, under the brutal occupation of Yankee forces. High drama begins on page three and you’re already invested up to your elbows.
Trail of Storms is not a "pretty story", because these were not pretty times, and Marsha Ward does an excellent job stripping away any preconceived notions about a united, post-Civil War America. Still vastly divided and angry, prejudice continues to abound, and not just between races, but between geographies—north and south—and choices—Yankee vs. Rebs. The Binghams and the Heizers are two families torn by these elements until a merciless attack on one of their own distills each person’s core loyalties. No longer safe in Virginia, our characters lay aside differences, unite and head west.
Jesse Bingham is still heartbroken over having been abandoned by James Owen when his family headed west. With no other marriage prospects, she concedes to accept the proposal of Ned Heizer, an older-brother figure made controversial because of his service in the northern army during the war. Along the trail, they meet up with James Owens, and the tension over loyalties ignites anew.
Complex elements abound in the book, but Ms. Ward handles them honestly, contrasting the innocence and ignorance of nineteenth century decorum against the grit that era required of its men and women, particularly as they endeavored to survive a westward trek.
The Binghams and Heizers leave Virginia with little more than a wagon load of troubles and pure determination. James Owen is suffering as well--over the recent loss of his bride. Life is hard for this group, which adds to the sweetness of their interaction with a group of Mormon pioneers who briefly cross their path. It did feel rushed, but I actually enjoyed the hit-and-run feel of this exchange, and considering the threat of winter on the trail, it's likely an accurate account of how groups met, shared a few hours, and hurried quickly on. In Trail of Storms, these few shared hours provide a sweet distraction to both parties while imbuing a spiritual element of hope into a few of the more troubled Virginians.
Much of the story moves like the gait of the wagon trains along the prairie--steady action accentuated with heart-thumping chapters. This back-and-forth pace works very well for this book. The reader experiences the unsettling travail of trail life, as well as the daily, life-and-death struggle it presents. Loaded with interpersonal drama and raw western action, Trail of Storms crosses genders, delivering an appealing, engaging read men and women will both enjoy.