Review: Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward

Gideon Makepeace, a young man of twenty, knows who he is and what he likes: decency, men and women too, horse training, and fun… and in Livingston, Montana, in the lush autumn of 1895, he finds he likes a Lakota Sioux Indian better than he might ought to.

Jedediah Buffalo Bird is seriously wounded and seeking medical care, and Gideon helps Jed when some bigoted townsfolk might have done otherwise. Jed, who knows the wild far better than Gideon and feels indebted to him, agrees to repay him by being his guide to San Francisco.

Their trip takes them across thousands of wild miles, through the mountains men mine and the Indian reservations dotting the plains. Facing a majestic West, they learn from each other about white folks and Indians alike. Gideon’s interest in Jed is clear from the start, but will Jed give up the life he knows for a young, brash white man he has perhaps come to love? Or will he push Gideon away in favor of the peace of nature and the personal freedom of having nothing to lose?

Review by Bruin Fisher

There’s a reason why Hollywood made so many cowboy movies and TV series in the 60’s and 70’s – it’s a genre that provides plenty of scope for telling a good story. Of course much of the vast output from that period was trash, formulaic and unrealistic. Baddies wore dark hats, didn’t shave, spat and couldn’t shoot straight, goodies wore light hats, crisply laundered check shirts that never got sweaty, had perfect teeth and no body hair, and could shoot a Higgs boson off the the end of a Large Hadron Collider with both hands tied behind their back.

Hollywood, I assume, has realised they overdid it somewhat, and the occasional Western movie that still comes off the production line these days is usually more thoughtful, and often tongue-in-cheek or post-modern ironic. We’ve had Brokeback Mountain, but whether that will pave the way for more gay cowboy movies remains to be seen.

Brokeback Mountain was, of course, a short story by E.Annie Proulx before it was a movie, and we certainly do now have a plethora of gay cowboy books to choose from. May I advise choosing carefully – much like 1960’s Hollywood, some of the output in this genre is not as good as it might be.

When I pick up a gay Western story, I have a response a little like biting into a Steak and Ale pie in a restaurant: it ought to be a delight, but it so often isn’t. You will understand, therefore, my surprise and excitement when I began reading Well Traveled by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward, and found that it’s utterly splendid. Starting with beautiful artwork on the cover by Catt Ford, it is well-written, believable, with sympathetic if flawed characters and an engaging storyline, it got my attention from the very beginning and held me spellbound all the way through. And if you get to the end and want more, there’s a novella-length sequel called ‘Earth and Sun, Cedar and Sage’.

Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward (spelled Tedi in the author’s bio at the back of the book) are experienced technical writers who have branched out into m/m historical romance, and on the basis of this book I hope they write many more together. There’s a sense of a harmonious writing team at work in the pages of the book, a team that doesn’t put a foot wrong in creating characters, setting and plot that draws the reader in and takes him with them through the story. It’s a treat to read.

Gideon Makepiece is a showman, a circus performer, although when the story begins he has just completed a secondment to a rancher, helping his hands with the training of his horses. Paid off, he’s about to take the train across the country to San Francisco where he expects to rejoin his troupe, but he chances upon a couple of locals mistreating a Lakota brave who has reluctantly come into town in search of medical attention, after being gored by a wild boar. Indians are not generally welcome in town, but Gideon persuades the local doctor to tend the brave’s wound and the further injuries he had suffered at the hands of the townsmen. Then he finds, and pays for, lodging for the patient and nurses him back to health. An updated Good Samaritan story. All this delays Gideon’s trip to San Francisco, and he’s spent the money that should have paid his rail fare. So in gratitude for his help, the Indian, Jedediah Buffalo Bird, offers to act as his guide so that he can make the journey on foot. He has his circus horse, Star, but Jedediah shows that on a long journey a horse will hold a traveller up rather than speeding his travel.
On their journey the two men learn a little about each other and develop first respect and later something more for each other. Jedediah is taciturn, and we don’t learn very much about him at first. It is well into the second half of the book that we learn a little about the circumstances of his birth – he’s half-caste – and the book ends with a number of questions still unanswered – scope for a sequel. Gideon talks more and thinks less, and manages to offend his fellow traveller a number of times, sometimes without realising his offence.

The story takes in an adventure or two on the way, and reaches a very satisfactory conclusion to qualify as a romance. I’m giving it five stars – it has a good story, interesting and believable characters, a good feel for the period including the danger that any same-sex attraction carried, and it’s very well crafted, grammar and punctuation both working to assist with a smooth reading experience.

It’s not perfect but its faults are minor. I did notice that the narrative occasionally ventured into moments of the same vernacular that the characters used. It was of course entirely appropriate to have Gideon say stuff like ‘You’d best teach me fast, if we ain’t got much time left together’ but it was surprising to come across narrative such as:

“Gideon hadn’t even found a feller really worth looking twice at around here, much less worth the risk of approaching, not when he couldn’t move on right quick if things fell out wrong. It weren’t no trouble to take matters in hand, so to speak…”

“…a grimace that Gideon knew didn’t have nothing at all to do with pain.”

“The farm was big, covering acres, but there weren’t nobody in the fields, and no one in the yard as they approached the house. “

I don’t think it’s usual for the narrator to speak the same colloquial variety of English as the protagonists, and it brought me up short when the narration, mostly in standard English, dropped into the text the occasional colloquialism. I got used to it, but if it was deliberate I don’t think it worked, and it was so sparsely distributed through the text that it might have been simply a mistake.

Also there were a couple of places where the wording made me rear up on my hind legs and go ‘Whoa!’. For instance:

“He felt limp as a wet rope.”

Cotton rope when wet is stiff and inflexible, it’s only limp when dry. Nylon ropes that remain as flexible wet as they are dry are a modern invention.

I wouldn’t even mention something like that if there were any worthwhile faults to pick on. The book is highly recommended to anyone who likes stories where the good guy is as likely to be an Indian as a cowboy.

2 Responses

  1. I read this one some time ago, but remember really liking it. Thanks for the review.

  2. I’m deeply flattered and gratified to read your review. The story was indeed a pleasure to co-write with Tedy, and we do have hopes of additional stories with these characters in the future. Frankly, we fell in love with Gideon and Jed, so I’m always glad to find readers who loved them, and their world, too.

    Regards,
    Margaret Mills

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