These is my Words by Nancy Turner
I’m not big on romance stories. Or historical fiction. BUT These is my Words was enough of a novel to make me think maybe I’m being too picky. If a similar book were as well written, engaging and completely lacking in bodice ripping as Nancy Turner’s debut novel, I might just give it a go.
Sarah Agnes Prine is keeping a diary as her family moves across what they call the Territories and we now call the Wild West. She’s about 18 in July 1881, the date of the first entry.
Within the first 15 pages, someone has died, they’ve been attacked by American Indians and someone else has died, and Sarah, the diary keeper, has killed two men raping a young woman travelling with her and her family. There goes any notion you might have had that this will be a gentle affair.
It wasn’t called the Wild West for nothing. Life is perilous, precious and fleeting. Yet the big skies, desert soil and rugged landscape are as much a part of Sarah’s life as any of the people or places she encounters. The modern trappings of electricity, running water and antibiotics are, of course, non-existent. Snake bites, childbirth, smallpox. Indian attacks, floods, building materials. Everything is just sheer bloody hard work.
Sarah’s life is just that. She almost never questions the effort she puts in to keeping herself and her family fed, clothed and housed. When she does, it’s quite funny, but most of the time she just gets on with the business of being a pioneer. She is very good at it, and you will enjoy reading the complexities of daily life and the effort it takes just to keep your house clean, tidy and warm – after you’ve built it of course, and defended it, and painted it and stocked it …. you get the idea. Even later, when she has an indoor toilet and gas lights, life retains that hard edge.
Sarah is extremely likable. She is courageous in the true sense of the word, feeling afraid and soldiering on anyway. If you’re like me, you will tilt your head and smile as you grasp the meaning of situations that perplex her, and empathise with her over decisions she has to make and tragedies she has to live through. You’ll admire her courage and smile at her naivety. She lives a life we can only imagine, and fills your mind with vivid images of her daily trials and errors.
Then there’s Captain Jack Elliot, the love of Sarah’s life. She almost can’t stand him at first, thinking him coarse and vulgar – which he is by her standards (I’m sure I know worse people). Their relationship is far from perfect, but not in the Mills & Boon conflict-to-resolve-before-living-happily-ever-after kind of way. Instead, this seems what it’s really like being married to a soldier in the Wild West at the end of the 19th century. What a relief – no historical romanceoverload.
Sarah’s final diary entry is twenty years after the first. It doesn’t finish at the end of her life, just at the end of one part. Sarah is a truly steely woman, and I like the fact that she keeps moving forward. It seems fitting. I am a reluctant reader of historical romance, but this is a highly readable and enjoyable story. I say go for it.