5 Stars Out Of 5
An Old-Fashioned Western - A Perfect Start to the Stuart Brannon Saga
April 16, 2016
Stuart Brannon is in mourning and has been ever since his wife Lisa died in childbirth along with their tiny stillborn son. When a friend of his, Charley Imhoff, asks Brannon to join him at his gold claim in the Colorado Rockies, Brannon jumps at the opportunity to do something, anything. But now here he is, floundering through feet of snow and stumbling into a ripe fix of circumstances that won't thaw out until spring. Broken Arrow Crossing, a way station of sorts between civilization and the gold fields in Colorado, houses Everett Davis (also a friend of Charley's) who also happens to be back shot, a pregnant and abused Indian girl named Elizabeth, an Irish family by the name of Mulroney, an Englishman named Fletcher, and the Frenchman, Trudeaux. Brannon faces down his own fears, the evils that one man can do to another, and western justice, all before the first flowers bloom.
I'd lived in Colorado roughly 3 months before discovering Stephen Bly at my local library. I was 14-years-old at the time and there was nothing more adventuresome or engaging than this series. But the best thing about Stephen Bly's work is that it stands the test of time. Re-reading the series, it's as good today as I remember it when I was 14, although I'm happy to see those reprint covers. A lot of readers (and I'm guilty of it too) judge a book by its cover so these beautiful reprints should help.
Stephen Bly was blessed with a talent for telling stories. He didn't force them, didn't write according to an established heroine-must-meet-hero-before-chapter-three mentality. In fact, there is no romance in this series for Stuart Brannon. He's a man still deeply in love with his deceased wife. Instead the stories possess a natural flow. With his minimalist writing style, Stephen Bly told in 10 words what others would tell in 25. One sentence can have the reader in helpless giggles or fighting back tears. My favorite set of lines is so simple yet so telling, "Before the sun was above the treetops, Mulroney, Fletcher and Brannon hiked out of the clearing and into the trees. A small pair of snowshoes were strapped to Stuart Brannon's back." So much is said in these two sentences that encompass both intense fear and intense hope all at the same time. His writing style is beautiful, weaving a tale of the Old West so vivid that you can see the images galloping across the page.
This one, the introduction to Stuart Brannon, is brilliant in that it covers the topics of grief and anger at God without preaching at you. Brannon's wandering, trying to make sense of the injustice of the universe, believing in prayer, but not really in answered prayer, is all indicative of questions humanity has asked since forever. He comes face to face with himself, as a man, as a husband, as a father, and how he feels about God. Why does he do the right thing when so many others do the wrong thing? What makes his stance of protecting the helpless right? It's a great journey and he grows a lot in that single winter he spends at Broken Arrow Crossing. At one point, Brannon has a conversation with a couple of other characters about Lisa being A Stander, meaning she'll stick by you through anything. What Brannon didn't realize is that he's A Stander too.
This book is fraught with peril. The American West was awash with nasty gunslingers, maybe not like you see it in the movies, but if you have a gold rush, guess what? Evil men will flock to it! In this case, Brannon must defend the rights of himself and all of the others under his care, for the entire cabin and barn full of people at Broken Arrow Crossing are in his care, whether he wanted it that way or not. I love, have always loved, the respect that Stuart Brannon shows to others. Elizabeth gives birth to her "little warrior" Littlefoot, and Brannon protects her. It doesn't matter to him that she's an Indian. She's a lady and while he's there, nobody will treat her any differently because SHE IS A LADY.
Like a said, not a romance. Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing is one of those old-fashioned westerns about a man who's good to the very core of his being. He's lost so much, but he's still a good man. That's a man you can love.