Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has a mission that he did not ask for nor one that he wishes, though he readily admits the necessity of his journey. A news reader who makes his living traveling between rough frontier towns in the tension-filled midst of Reconstruction-era Texas, he is asked to return a 10-year-old girl to her family. The child, Johanna, was captured by Kiowa years earlier and seems to have no memory of her former life or native language. She just wants to return to her adopted tribe and keeps trying to run away every chance she gets. As the two travel hundreds of miles together through a land beset by raiding parties and criminals, complications ensue.
I first noticed this book when I was supposed to be shelving other books. I immediately remembered the author because I read and enjoyed her book Enemy Women last summer. I had enjoyed Jiles’s eloquent writing style, her unique characters, and her skill in recreating Civil-War-era Missouri, so I was curious to give another work of hers a try.
I’m really glad I did because, as much as I enjoyed Enemy Women, I actually liked this book even more.
Its greatest strength is undoubtedly its protagonist, Captain Kidd, as well as the friendship he forms with Johanna. He is a wonderful character, and Johanna herself is endearing. They make an engaging tag team, and I enjoyed reading about their adventures, from the mundane, like the Captain trying to re-teach her English words and how to use silverware, to their violent encounters with those who intend to steal the girl away for decidedly more nefarious purposes.
The colorful supporting characters also enhance the book. As the narration once states, “There was anarchy in Texas in 1870 and every man did what was right in his own eyes.” To that end, some of the men and women that the Captain and Johanna encounter treat them with kindness, while others do not. But it makes for a fascinating gallery of life and people in 1870 Texas. And, ultimately, despite some grim moments, the story is actually an incredibly heartwarming one.
The book works well as a character study, an adventure tale and a historical novel, but a lot of its effectiveness is in its simplicity and also the fact that it’s just a great story.
*Ebook also available on Libby.
Incidentally, I hadn’t realized that Jiles has written about this topic before. A previous novel, The Color of Lightning**, is based on the remarkable true story of Britt Johnson and his determination to recover his wife and children after they were taken captive by the Kiowa. I suppose, with News of the World, she has come full circle in writing about both the search for captives and their journeys home. After reading Enemy Women and News of the World, I’m definitely a fan and am looking forward to reading more of her work. To learn more about any of her books, just follow this link to our online library catalog.
**Audiobook also available on Libby.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Robert Bausch’s Far as the Eye Can See.
Are you a Paulette Jiles fan? What’s your favorite Western released in the past few years? Tell us in the comments!