Title: End of the Trail
Author: Jane Elliot
Publisher: Manifold Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Length: Novel (46k words/186 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A lovely, gentle historical romance
Will Connors is struggling to hold together a failing farm; his wife has died, his son has gone, he’s not without enemies and he’s dealing with the after-effects of a debilitating accident. It’s a life of toil which doesn’t allow for very much pleasure, and he’s in danger of becoming embittered until a chance acquaintance wanders back into his life and everything begins to change. The problem, however, is that John Anderson has a price on his head — and, very soon, Will and John find themselves desperately concealing more than one dangerous secret.
End of the Trail is one of the only four titles currently available through the new Manifold Press. Being a new publisher and a new author to me, I didn’t know what to expect as far as editing and quality of the writing, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was a well-written and plotted story that kept my interest, and note that while the blurb hints that there may be big conflict and angst in store for our two heroes, in reality I found it to be a sweet, gentle book that worked for me on just about every level.
Set in the late nineteen century, the story opens to cattle ranch owner Will finding an injured rider on his land. Giving only the name John, Will takes him back to his house where Will’s wife, Molly, tends to his gunshot wound. During the course of this several-week stay mending, the seemingly wealthy John charms Will’s family, and just before he leaves, saves them from thieves. Molly tells John he is welcome back any time. Only after he is gone does Will realize that John is an infamous stagecoach robber and has a bounty on his head. Jump ahead three years. John reappears suddenly at the ranch to Will’s dismay asking for shelter in exchange for helping around the place. Though hesitant to have the outlaw back in his life and under his roof, much has happened since he last saw John — Molly passed away, his son is now living with relatives on the East Coast, and Will himself was injured, leaving him crippled in one leg — and he reluctantly agrees to the help and company. An easy friendship begins to develop, which amazes Will, and John slowly but surely seduces Will into more. But as Will becomes disillusioned with a ranchers life — especially with his bad leg — soon they are making decisions that will affect their futures.
End of the Trail is a plausible Gay For You story that has a slow buildup and one that luckily escapes much of the angst and challenges associated with one partner never being in a same-sex couple. Religion never makes its way into the plot and Will barely thinks about the reasons he shouldn’t be with John — it just happens naturally. It was a refreshing break from the at-times heavy emotion one finds in GFY stories. Also, I got a good feel for the time period, that time when the railroads were being expanded out west and indoor running water was only for the rich and hotels.
This book is very much about character development. Told third-person via Will’s eyes, I found both protags extremely likable and sympathetic, especially John as we are told his story in bits and pieces. I liked watching Will rationalize through John’s character — a thief and killer with a heart of gold and a tough past, how he came to think of John as a permanent part of his “family” as opposed to a temporary guest, and how he didn’t want to look too closely at the reasons why he wanted to please John or how the initial sexual encounters felt so good.
I was charmed by John, from his gentle nature to his learning how to do things around the ranch to his ravenous sweet tooth to his chicken fixation. I liked how he didn’t baby Will around his bad leg and almost wordlessly came to help when necessary. He is a good man, though a by-product of bad circumstances, and one who wants to better himself.
I liked watching their domesticity — the tries at cooking and baking, cleaning house, laundry, etc. I laughed several times, such as when the protags were bargaining laundry tasks with cake, and John building a hog feeder, only for it to get torn down time and again by the smart pigs.
Warning: there are two M/F/M ménages in the book as John and Will’s first experiences together were sharing a prostitute. Though not to my liking, I understand why they were included in the story.
Lastly, the author left the story open enough at the end that I would not be surprised to learn a sequel were in the works.
I highly recommend End of the Trail to anyone looking for a good historical western.