Twisted Tales: Women in the (Old) West | Reading Intersections

Fall down the rabbit hole with us! In our Reading Intersections series, we’ll give you a place to start and where to go next, piling titles on until you’re neck-deep in books, graphic novels and movies on a similar theme.

Hold onto your hats and holsters, folks, you’re about to meet several headstrong, gun-slinging women who’ve tamed their fantastical slice of the West.

Start Here:

karen.memoryElizabeth Bear. Karen Memory. 2015.

Bear excels at immersive world-building and memorable characters, both of which are present and accounted for in Karen Memory.

“‘Set in the late 19th century–when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house–a resourceful group–and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, beggin’ sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap–a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.”

Next Stop:

VermilionMolly Tanzer. Vermilion. 2015.

“Gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp, Elouise “Lou” Merriwether might not be a normal 19-year-old, but she’s too busy keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung si to care much about that. It’s an important job, though most folks consider it downright spooky. Some have even accused Lou of being more comfortable with the dead than the living, and, well… they’re not wrong. When Lou hears that a bunch of Chinatown boys have gone missing somewhere deep in the Colorado Rockies she decides to saddle up and head into the wilderness to investigate. Lou fears her particular talents make her better suited to help placate their spirits than ensure they get home alive, but it’s the right thing to do, and she’s the only one willing to do it. On the road to a mysterious sanatorium known as Fountain of Youth, Lou will encounter bears, desperate men, a very undead villain, and even stranger challenges. Lou will need every one of her talents and a whole lot of luck to make it home alive…”

Vengeance RoadErin Bowman. Vengeance Road. September 2015.

An upcoming YA offering, I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on this one.

“When her father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, eighteen year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers–and justice. In the spirit of True Grit, acclaimed young adult novelist Erin Bowman brings to life the unpredictable and cutthroat days of the Wild West.”

Visit the author’s web site to watch the book trailer.

A Little to the Left:

BoneshakerCherie Priest. Boneshaker. 2009.

What Boneshaker lacks in Old West setting it makes up for in grit and determination. You will fall in love with Briar Wilkes, whose ferocious tenacity, steadfast protective streak and no-nonsense nature sees her through one impossible task after another, and while Briar isn’t the star of the other books in Priest’s Clockwork Century series, no doubt you’ll want to continue on regardless.

“In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born. But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead. Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history. His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.”

Dead IronDevon Monk. Dead Iron. 2013.

This one unfolds at a leisurely pace that may frustrate some, but the writing sparkles like a bit of silver under the sun, and it’s chock full of interesting characters who all but beg for feature stories of their own.

“In steam age America, men, monsters, machines, and magic battle for the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, bounty hunter Cedar Hunt rides, cursed by lycanthropy, carrying the guilt of his brother’s death. Then Cedar is offered hope that his brother may yet survive. All he has to do is find the Holder: a powerful device created by mad devisers—and now in the hands of an ancient Strange who was banished to walk this earth. In a land shaped by magic, steam, and iron, where the only things a man can count on are his guns, gears, and grit, Cedar will have to depend on all three if he’s going to save his brother and reclaim his soul once and for all….”

Truth Time:

womens westSusan Armitage. The Women’s West. 1987.

“The American West looms large in popular imagination-a place where men were rugged and independent, violent and courageous. In this mythic West all the men were white, and the women were largely absent. The few female actors played supporting roles around the edges of the drama. Molded by the Victorian Cult of True Womanhood, they were passive, dependent, reluctant, and out of place. Men “won” the West. Women, against their better judgement, followed them to this “newly discovered” place and tried to re-create the amenities of the urban East. Or so the myth goes. The Women’s West challenges this picture as racist, sexist, and romantic and rejects the customary emphasis of traditional western history on the nineteenth-century frontier, discovered and defined by Anglo men. In its place The Women’s West begins the construction of a new western history as complex and varied as the people who lived it. This collection of twenty-one articles creates a multidimensional portrait of western women. The pioneer women presented here were actors in their own lives, not passive participants in their husbands’ ventures. They were hardy seekers who came west, sometimes alone, in search of jobs, freedom, or land to homestead. They were political activists who worked tirelessly to win the right to vote and to hold political office. They adapted in practical ways to their own and their families’ economic and personal needs in a new environment.”

Boudoirs to BrothelsMichael Rutter. Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women. 2014.

“Come peek between the covers for an intimate look at the lives of women of the Old West. Once “fallen” or widowed, a woman had few options and almost none that were socially acceptable. Many turned to the red light district to survive. Illustrated with rare historical photographs, Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women takes you inside the dark, dangerous lives of 18 madams and working girls.”

This title is not available through NOBLE, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get it for you. Fill out the InterLibrary Loan request form and we’ll be in touch.

Going Graphic:

Pretty DeadlyKelly Sue DeConnick, Clayton Cowles. Pretty Deadly Volume 1. 2014.

This graphic novel has gravitas, carrying with it the sense that, actually, it isn’t relating a new myth or folk tale but one that’s been around a very, very long time, only no one dared speak Ginny’s name till now. [X]

“Kelly Sue DeConnick (Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel) and Emma Rios (Dr. Strange, Osborn) present the collected opening arc of their surprise-hit series that marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher. Death’s daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her origin story is a tale of retribution as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.”

CopperheadJay Faerber, Ron Riley, Scott Godlweski. Copperhead Volume 1: A New Sheriff in Town. 2015.

I haven’t read this graphic novel, but that’s going to change.

“Welcome to Copperhead, a grimy mining town on the edge of a backwater planet. Single mom Clara Bronson is the new sheriff, and on her first day she’ll have to contend with a resentful deputy, a shady mining tycoon, and a family of alien hillbillies. And did we mention the massacre? Questions swirl around not only the murder mystery, but around Sheriff Bronson herself. What brought her to a place like Copperhead? Is she running from something? Or towards something?”

Watch It:

cowboys and aliensCowboys and Aliens. 2011.

“The Old West.. where a lone cowboy leads an uprising against a terror from beyond our world. 1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear. But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he’s been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella (Olivia Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents-townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors-all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival.”

Quick and the DeadThe Quick and the Dead. 2005.

“In this edgy and darkly humorous Western, a mysterious young woman rides into the lawless town of Redemption to settle an old score that has haunted her since she was a child. She becomes swept up in a deadly quick-draw tournament and, in order to win her revenge, must compete in a contest in which gunslingers from all over put their lives on the line for fame and fortune.”

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One thought on “Twisted Tales: Women in the (Old) West | Reading Intersections

  1. Pingback: Mount TBR – July | Susan Hated Literature

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