Melissa reviews the ebook version of ‘Sweetwater’ by Lisa Henry. The ebook was published on September 29th, 2014 by Riptide Publishing and is 256 pages long. Marc reviews the audiobook version of the book, which was published on August 5th, 2016, narrated by Dorian Bane and is 7 hrs and 39 mins long.
An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Why Melissa read this book: I am a huge fan of Lisa Henry and the blurb got my attention. I need to branch out in my reading and when RGR historical theme came up, I felt this was the perfect time to read this one.
Why Marc read this book: RGR received a review copy of this book a while back, but I needed to be in the right mind set for this story as I don’t often read Westerns and know Lisa Henry likes her stories way dark. When the audiobook version came out, I used a credit to get it and saw it as a sign that it was time to start the story. I was not disappointed.
Wyoming Territory, 1870.
Elijah Carter is afflicted. Most of the townsfolk of South Pass City treat him as a simpleton because he’s deaf, but that’s not his only problem. Something in Elijah runs contrary to nature and to God. Something that Elijah desperately tries to keep hidden.
Harlan Crane, owner of the Empire saloon, knows Elijah for what he is—and for all the ungodly things he wants. But Crane isn’t the only one. Grady Mullins desires Elijah too, but unlike Crane, he refuses to push the kid.
When violence shatters Elijah’s world, he is caught between two very different men and two devastating urges: revenge, and despair. In a boomtown teetering on the edge of a bust, Elijah must face what it means to be a man in control of his own destiny, and choose a course that might end his life . . . or truly begin it for the very first time.
(Publisher’s note: This title contains dubious consent.)
Melissa’s eBook review of ‘Sweetwater’:
This was a unique story. Elijah Carter is partially deaf as a result of scarlet fever when he was a kid. He and his family were traveling west on a wagon train, and the cause of his family’s death is not outright stated but implied that his parents and siblings died of the fever. Dr. Carter, whose own wife and daughter died (cause unknown), takes Elijah in as his adopted son. It’s clear Dr. Carter loves Elijah, and takes great care of him, but he doesn’t understand Elijah and what his deafness did to him. The town treats Elijah like a “simpleton,” which makes him leery of strangers (or even those he knows), because they mock him, talk down to him, or are just plain cruel. But Elijah is smarter than they know; he watches and sees things other’s don’t realize.
Elijah has developed a self hatred of himself, partially because he doesn’t feel he is good enough for Dr. Carter. Elijah views his adopted father in a bright light, and fears that if he were to learn the truth about Elijah, and who – or what – he really is, he would be disappointed in him, which is Elijah’s greatest fear (disappointing him and seeing that look in Dr. Carter’s eyes). And that truth he fears so much is the fact that he prefers men to women, that it’s a perversion and makes him less somehow. Harlan Crane, the owner of the town’s whorehouse and gambling den, sees this hatred in Elijah and shows Elijah the pleasure pain can bring. But Grady Mullins also sees Elijah, and wants to protect him, not hurt him.
I enjoyed this story, but I was kept guessing too. There is a mystery element to this story and I was eager to see how it would be resolved. Elijah is a troubled character who doesn’t see his own worth, and could be seen as someone easily led. In the end I found Elijah to be a good man who just needed a break in life. Grady and Crane both teach Elijah something about himself and I enjoyed watching Elijah grow. I do recommend this story but be warned that it’s not an easy read. Elijah’s pain and self loathing, doubt and anger are hard to read at times.
Melissa’s Rating: 8/10 Pots of Gold (80% Recommended) – Compares to 4/5 Stars.
Marc’s audiobook review of ‘Sweetwater’:
I don’t usually like to read dark stories. There are books that many of my friends adore and say are worth the darkness, but that I had to DNF. There are some aspects of the human soul, the darkest parts, that scare the heck out of me. I prefer to read about imaginary monsters than to read about a human monster, knowing that there really are people like that out there in the world. It can be too much for me, so I am careful with dark books. However, while Lisa Henry has written a lot of very dark books, she never crosses the line for me. The MCs I read about can be deeply flawed, but not evil. I want to identify and sympathize with them.
Elijah, like all the many wonderful main characters this author has brought to life on page, is very likable. He is flawed, shy, withdrawn, full of self-doubt, full of kindness, deeply human. He lost his family and almost his life to scarlet fever and was adopted by a kind doctor, who doesn’t completely understand him. Being hearing impaired in a time where many people did not show consideration to such a condition, most people consider him to be stupid and simple-minded. Even though he does not understand every word and has to concentrate on lip reading, he is not dumb, though, and ‘hears’ much more than peple think. They let down their guard around him and speak freely. He is almost invisible to them. He just stays quiet, tries to not be a bother (he considers himself broken and a deviant and a very bad replacement for the doctor’s lost wife and daughter) and he watches, observes things, connects things and understands much more than anyone guesses.
I loved Elijah as a character and the book itself seems like a journey of self-discovery for him. However it should be mentioned that the book is quite dark and touches upon dubious consent in parts and just feels awfully depressing for long stretches. The world Elijah lives in, much like our own, can be very gritty and unmercyful. The book takes readers back in time and it is a very authentic and realistic journey, sometimes almost too much. It is not an easy book to read, but I was still captivated by every ‘page’ and couldn’t stop listening to the audiobook.
The audio narration was fantastic and, for me, listening to such a dark story was much easier than reading it. I could close my eyes and enjoy a tremendously well-written story that was narrated by Dorian Bane, a very talented guy and perfect fit for a rough, gritty western.
For me the book’s world reminded me a lot of HBO’s ‘Deadwood’, a show I used to watch with my dad. There is a certain feel of freedom in western stories, pioneers building something new from scratch, creating their own order. That also makes it very gritty and dark, though, when an author explores what the reality must have looked like. It is easy to romanticise that period in time, but I am sure it was not easy to live in and often not just, either.
There are several bad guys in this story, and like the heroes, they are not one-dimensional. No character in this book is only good or only bad, but a complex mixture. Human. Though there are people that are very unlikeable, with hearts full of darkness and no moral compass. Dawson, the butcher Elijah works for comes to mind. He mistreats the boy badly, is greedy and into some seriously shady stuff.
Harlan Crane, to me, was one of the most fascinating characters in the book. He is a complex character. One of the bad guys for sure and he does some terrible things in this book, but he also has a strange charisma that draws Elijah back to him again and again. Crane is confident, powerful, dangerous and one of the first peple to ever really see Elijah. He realizes the young man is more than most believe and can read Elijah like a book. Unfortunately, he uses this ability to seduce and manipulate him.
Crane can see right into Elijah’s soul and see his secret desires. Elijah is drawn to him like a moth to fire, but the attraction seems similarily dangerous. Crane introduces the young man to pleasures of the flesh, but he is not gentle about it. He takes what he wants, how he wants it and hurts Elijah. The sex between them verges on abuse, but we also get to see that Elijah wants it in a way he does not understand. He wants to punish himself for being an unworthy son and having these dark desires, but he also finds pleasure in the pain and the attention of another man. He discovers a different part of himself.
This is where Grady comes in. He is also interested in Elijah, but he is a much more gentle soul. He wants to protect and cherish the boy, but may be too tame for Elijah’s dark desires and too good for a boy who wants to punish himself. It’s like the two men who desire Elijah represent the bright and dark aspects of passion, as they fight for his body and soul. It was impossible for me to look away.
However, this dark love triangle does not mean this story is a menage. Neither man shares well and Crane really is a bad guy, even though I think in the end he does feel something for Elijah.
There is also a violent and suspenseful mystery that was heartbreaking for me and gives the story direction beyond the self discovery Elijah finds in the arms of both lovers. He discovers different aspects of himself through the men he desires and has sex with, but there are also forces beyond his control that bring him to the edge of sanity and force him to make life altering decisions with dire consequences.
I can strongly recommend this dark, but spellbinding story, but it will not be for everyone. The world the author created is gritty, realistic and violent, but the characters, flawed as they are, make this story truly worth reading.
Marc’s Rating: 9/10 Pots of Gold (90% Recommended) – Compares to 4.5/5 Stars
Lisa Henry likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters. Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape. She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly. She shares her house a log-suffering partner, too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.