Strangers and Pilgrims by Kristina Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of this book by the author. Thank you Ms Hall!
I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel so clearly infused with Christian belief before. I found it a bit of a strange experience, although not unpleasant.
Our hero rides back in to his (fictional, Texan) hometown one day several years after the Civil War, to find it has been over-run by Yankees. The Big Bad (carpetbagger)’s henchmen goad him into a fight, and our hero is left to die in the street.
(One day I have got to have a discussion with someone who has studied the question – why are so many western genre heroes ex-Confederates? Even in westerns written today? Is it as simple as reflecting historic migration patterns and employments, or is there something more philosophical going on? I think there’s something philosophical going on. Or maybe it just feels traditional now?)
Anyway, our heroine rescues him, with the help of her sidekicks, a girl and an older guy with an alcohol dependency problem.
We find out that our heroine was once the Big Bad’s Gal, before she was Saved, and Big Bad does not take kindly to her harbouring a grayback. (The Big Bad is Definitely Not Saved – although I did wonder at one point if the story would end with him being born again. Minor Spoiler Alert: No.)
Further conflict ensues, with much discussion of the Christian gospel as understood by the heroic characters. They draw much comfort from their faith. Which is fair enough, although I did feel that on occasion their contemplations slowed the story down.
In general, I felt that this story, which has a fairly simple “Defeat the Bad Guy Before He Gets Us!” main plot, didn’t quite have as quick a pace as it could have, and in places it feels a bit like we were stalling with faith-thoughts before getting to the next action scene, however, I also suspect that most readers will be looking to this book for it’s Christian Content and will be most interested in that, rather than in the action or plot, so I’m not sure that this is actually a flaw for it’s intended audience.
There is also a romantic subplot, and there is Drinking Sidekick Guy. (Usually in a western if he is a good guy he redeems himself, but in this one it’s made clear that instead of redeeming himself, he is Redeemed.) I quite liked Drinking Sidekick Guy (DSG), and the helpful good girl character, I think that those two were perhaps more interesting than the two main hero characters. Not that the two main characters were boring, but you knew from the very start that they were Good, even if they might sometimes do silly things in order to keep the plot going, whereas the Girl and the DSG had greater potential to choose the wrong path. There was more suspense around their characters that way.
This is apparently Ms Hall’s first venture into writing a western novel, and I’d say that for a first go, it gets quite a lot right, although I might have filled in some of the gaps between action differently then she did (I would probably have had less of the gospel and more wandering around the landscape or people playing with goats or something.)
Christian Fiction is not my usual domain, (and maybe I’ll blog a bit one day about how stumbling accidentally across some badly written old Christian Western paperbacks a decade and a half ago turned me off reading westerns for awhile,) but I can recognize the sincerity of its message, and the effort and attention put into this self-published novel (I did not notice any typoes! That seems to be quite an editorial accomplishment for self-published work.)
I suspect that most non-Christian-Fiction western readers would find the plot a bit too simple, and the Big Bad in particular a bit flat and crudely drawn – he’s just… bad… and I wonder how many other western readers would have expected more from the henchman we meet briefly who seems like he’s maybe a hired gun, but then he… disappears… I know I expected to see him again. But, breaking with expectations is not a bad thing to do, necessarily, and for the most part, this novel answers the promises it makes satisfactorily, if not spectacularly. There is a little bit of humour, although I don’t recall laughing at any point. Nor do I recall cringing, or feeling any emotion particularly strongly while reading.
I am giving this novel 3 stars out of 5, I found it an enjoyable, pleasant wander across into the Christian genre, although it lacked the vividness, for me, that would earn 4 stars. I suspect that those coming to this novel from within the Christian Novel reading community would like it more.
(And if I’d met this Christian Western a decade and a half ago instead of those bad old paperbacks, I might have kept reading westerns then, and I would have a lot more titles under my belt by now!)
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Strangers and Pilgrims by Kristina Hall