Giddy-up with These Great Western Novels

The Western is one of America’s oldest genres, and lately it’s been having a renaissance. Last year saw the release of films like The Harder They Fall, Those Who Wish Me Dead, and The Power of the Dog. Meanwhile over in TV land, the series Yellowstone and its prequel spin-off 1883 have been quite popular. You could even say that the Disney+ Star Wars shows The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett are just as much Westerns as they are Science Fiction.

Of course, the Western began as a literary genre, and it’s still going strong on the page. If all these on-screen Westerns have you itching for more high-stakes stories set in the treacherous landscape of the American West, here are some titles you can check out with your Livingston Library card.

The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage
The novel that inspired the 2021 film, currently nominated for 12 Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay). Set on a Montana ranch in the 1920s, this is the story of two brothers– George, who is kind, and Phil, who is cold– and how their relationship is tested after George’s new wife and her teenage son come to live with them.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Winner of the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this is the story of two retired Texas Rangers as they drive cattle from Texas to Montana in the late 1870s. I’m currently only on page 184 of this 850-page epic, but I can already tell it’s going to be amazing, and I’m going to try to savor it as long as I can.

The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin
One of my favorite reads from 2021, this “Weird Western” stars a Chinese-American gunslinger on a mission to exact revenge on the men who kidnapped him from his wife and forced him to work on the Pacific Railroad. Along the way he’s joined by a group of supernaturally- gifted magic show performers, and a blind psychic / spiritual advisor. The brief, episodic chapters keep the pace brisk, even in its more philosophical interludes, and the sardonic humor adds levity to all the brutal violence. 

Hombre by Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard may be famous for whip-smart gangster fiction like Get Shorty and Rum Punch, but his 1961 Western Hombre fits comfortably alongside those classics too. The hero of this crisp and gritty novel is John Russell, a white man raised among Apaches, who’s called upon to rescue his companions when their stagecoach is attacked by bandits. In his succinct and hard-boiled style, Leonard masterfully establishes well-drawn characters, embroils them in a high-stakes situation set in a treacherous Western landscape, and swiftly amps up the tension through to a thrilling yet poignant climax. Perfect for fans of the genre or the author.

Make Me No Grave by Hayley Stone
In 1873 Kansas, U.S. Marshal Apostle Richardson forms an unlikely (and romantically-charged) relationship with Almena Guillory, an outlaw with supernatural powers known as “The Grizzly Queen of the West.” After Almena is framed for crimes she did not commit, she and Apostle must team up to face off against determined lawmen, bank-robbing bandits, vigilante posses– and even a few witches. (Though this title is not available in the BCCLS catalog, you can find it here at the Livingston Library as part of our Indie Collection!)

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
This finalist for the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella takes place in an alternate timeline of 1890s America, where feral hippopotamuses run wild in the bayous of Louisiana, and are hunted mercenary “hippo wranglers” from around the world. If this sounds absurd, well, yes it certainly is– but in a marvelously thrilling way.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Hugo and Nebula Award-winner Roanhorse’s electrifying debut novel is set in a magical, post-apocalyptic America, and follows the adventures of a Navajo “monster-slayer.” Rooted in mythology, this fantastic story exploits and subverts many Western tropes from an Indigenous American perspective.

Open Season by CJ Box
The first of a 21-book (and counting) series introduces Joe Pickett, Wyoming Game Warden turned unlikely hero. After Joe discovers a dead poacher on his property, his investigation leads him through an intricate web of corruption involving an endangered species, an oil pipeline, and many colorful characters—including villainous government officials who won’t hesitate to threaten Joe’s endearingly relatable family. Joe is neither a crack shot nor a super sleuth, but he’s got enough honor and grit to save the day in this relentlessly suspenseful, pro-environmentalist Western / Mystery hybrid.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
In this gripping and philosophical thriller by Pulitzer Prize-winner McCarthy, a Texas man finds a satchel full of money belonging to Mexican drug dealers, then finds himself hunted by a ruthless assassin. This book was also the basis for the Coen Brothers’ film adaptation, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2008. For an even darker and more twisted take on the Western genre, check out McCarthy’s nightmarish 1985 novel Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West.

Joe, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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