Thursday, February 5, 2015

"The Light of Western Stars" by Zane Grey

I really liked this book a lot.  Until the final page.  I found it unusual and rather thrilling, and I enjoyed it greatly.  Until that last page, where Grey disappointed me so soundly I'll probably never read this again.

Before I go into why I was disappointed, I'll briefly outline the story.  Madeline Hammond comes west to find her brother.  She's exceedingly wealthy.  She falls in love with the west, buys a ranch, and sets about making a really cool home for herself.  And there's a cowboy named Gene Stewart who kind of goes from crude to awesome to crude to awesome with some regularity.  Madeline is drawn to him, he's drawn to her, and everything points to them having some kind of very tumultuous life together for many years, if they can ever just get together once and for all.  Also, there's an evil bad guy named Don Carlos who hates both of them with the fire of a thousand suns because... that's what bad guys do.  I was always a little unclear on just why he hated them so much, but I figured it'd all come perfectly clear at the end, when he and Gene Stewart had a glorious showdown of some sort, and Don Carlos was finished for good.

Except that's not what happened.  And even if, instead of a glorious showdown, Don Carlos had just gotten thrown in jail for being a stinker, I'd have been fine with that.  But that didn't happen, either.  In fact, nothing at all happened to Don Carlos.  He didn't even get apprehended.  He is still out there.  Any minute, he can pop back up out of the blue and menace Madeline and Stewart again!  This is all wrong, people!  It isn't right, it isn't fair!

I feel like Zane Grey was so excited over the very last line of the book (which was good) that he just forgot all about Don Carlos.  I also feel quite certain that, in the very next instant after that last line, Don Carlos pops out from behind a rock and shoots Gene Stewart.  And I will never know because Zane Grey left me hanging for all eternity.  Mutter mutter mutter.

Particularly Good Bits:

She scarcely remembered when she had found it necessary to control her emotions.  There had been no trouble, no excitement, no unpleasantness in her life.  it had been ordered for her -- tranquil, luxurious, brilliant, varied, yet always the same.

It was only by looking back that Madeline could grasp the true relation of things; she could not be deceived by the distance she had covered.

Once more, for the hundredth time, the man's reliability struck Madeline.  He was a doer of things.

...sarcastic as alkali water...

Heedless, desperate, she cast off the last remnant of self-control, turned from the old proud, pale, cold, self-contained ghost of herself to face this strange, strong, passionate woman.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for western violence and a sprinkling of bad language.

This is my 18th book read and reviewed for The Classics Club.


  1. Ha, ha! Great review! Loved it! :-D

  2. Hamlette,
    Alrighty, this is super awkward -- I the proclaimed LOTWS fan, who counts this novel as one of her Three Very Favorite Books, who (to put it simply) thinks it perfect in nearly every way and has read Certain Scenes over and over -- forgot totally about Don Carlos. Terrific. :P

    However, one of the reasons why I didn't remember him (besides my simply not paying attention :)) is that -- villain though he is -- this story isn't really about showing down the villains (though that horrid Sheriff gets as good a come down as any), it is more about the demons Stewart faces in himself, and how what is important in (and to) Majesty changes as well.

    Whether that is right or not in the story I don't know, but it certainly makes it different. I mean I don't even know if what I wrote here is perfectly correct(!) :), but it is just some of the feel I got from the story. :)

    1. Truth be told, I have been waiting nervously for your response, because I know you love this book a lot. And I loved it too! Just not the ending.

      I actually dreamed last night that I found a paper copy of this book, and it had a whole 'nother chapter that the Kindle version lacked, and that made it all better. So yeah, I felt so strongly about this that my subconscious insisted on addressing it my sleep! Hee.

      Because it's just not good writing to set up an antagonist and then never resolve the conflict between them and the protagonists. Like the song says, don't make promises you can't keep. I'm particularly sensitive to that right now, though, because I'm working through the long version of Holly Lisle's How to Revise a Novel course, and the lesson I'm on is all about making sure you don't leave promises unfulfilled in your book -- don't set something or someone up as important and then fail to have them be important or fail to conclude their part of the story.

      And Don Carlos was there -- he was the whole reason Gene Stewart wound up where he did. So a simple moment of someone coming in and telling Madeline, "We found Don Carlos and he'll never bother you again!" would have made me rest easy. But as it stands... he's still out there, and I'm quite scared for Madeline and Stewart.

      However, you're right in that the central conflict for Stewart's character was over whether he could overcome his natural instincts and become "Madeline's kind of cowboy." That doesn't mean, though, that external conflicts don't need to be dealt with too. To use an example from another book, Aragorn overcoming his internal conflict over whether or not he should claim his birthright doesn't mean we don't have to deal with Saruman and Grima still. Make sense?

    2. I'm still not sure if Grey did leave unfulfilled promises, but I think I will read the entire book again to see what I think!

      Oh, and for you having problems with it... No worries. :) Imagine if everyone had the same favorite novel! Now that would be truly awful. :) You would not have any reason to defend your choice or any reason for argument! :)

      Pardon the deleting comments mess, that is what comes from typing comments with too much speed and leaving out words. :)

    3. Perhaps it just all comes down to reader expectations. I expect conflict with villains to be resolved, that's all.

      You sound like me typing comments on my new phone -- I always end up making some typo or other. No big!

  3. This has been on my list for some fact I had it out from the library once, but I didn't get to it. I'd still like to read it, even if the ending is less than satisfactory, 'cause I like westerns so much and I've heard good things about it and I'd like to be able to say that I've read a Zane Grey book. :-)
    By the way, did you know that Zane Grey's first name was actually Pearl? I read that in American Cowboy magazine.


    1. It's a very good book! And as you can see from the comments above, the ending does not bother everyone. Definitely give it a try, because it was a roaring good read. But I liked Grey's "Riders of the Purple Sage" better.

      And yes, I did know that about Zane Grey. His birth name was Pearl Zane Grey, and I can see why he dropped the first name for writing, as "Pearl Grey" not only doesn't sound like a tough cowboy, it sounds like an entirely made-up name. But anyway, we've spent the night in the town where he was born, Zanesville, OH, several times on trips out to the midwest to visit family.

  4. I've been pretty disappointed recently by endings, as well, so I feel your pain.

    1. Aww, that stinks! This is the first one in a while that has made me go, "Phooey," and it didn't actually end badly, it was just a little unsatisfying.


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