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When Josie Comes Home (The New West)

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by A.E. Stanton


This novella is a western, but with a twist. Set about 200 years into a post-apocalyptic future, the story revolves around characters in Horsetown, a well-defended trading town where women do most of the work and are kept as sex-slaves for the use, and abuse, of any man who has the barter credits to spend.

The story starts when Josie, a particularly adept horse trainer, makes her break for freedom, promising to her sister Sadie to come back someday to free the women from their servitude. Horsetown's boss sends a team out to track her down and kill her, and when they return, they declare their success. But Sadie doesn't believe them, and in the ensuing years, she keeps telling the other women to have faith, Josie will in fact return someday to set them free and extract vengeance on their captors.

Into this rich tapestry are many interesting and captivating characters. The Gambler comes in, a quick-draw specialist with a secret and who spends his time parting other men from their credits at the gambling tables. Sadie remains a strong character with the utmost faith in Josie's return and her eventual freedom. Hawk is the new leader of Horsetown, and he keeps an iron grip on things to keep the status quo and the trading flowing.

Characterization is well developed for these and other players in the story. Each one has his or her unique voice. This is an area which can sometimes suffer in shorter works, but not in this case.

This story is not really complex. In that, it follows the pattern of the old-style western movies. It is a straightforward tale of good and evil, of righteousness and depravity. I was actually reminded quite a bit of Mike Resnick's novels in flow and style. As Resnick is one of my favorite authors, that is pretty high praise from me.

A good portion of the story follows form without surprises. But that does not interfere with the ability to entertain. Even if I knew what was happening, I enjoyed the journey immensely. However, I also have to admit that I really didn't foresee everything as the story went in a direction I didn't expect.

I should point out that despite the sex-slave aspect of the storyline, and despite one love scene, there are no graphic sexual descriptions. And while people are killed, neither is this a gore-fest. The author eschews the opportunity to make this a gratuitous tale, and, as such, this novella is still suitable not only for adults, but even for young teens.

The bottom line for me is that I really loved this story, and I read it with a smile permanently fixed on my face. And a reader can't ask for much more than that.


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