The Madstone begins as an against-the-odds attempt to evade evil and develops into a beautiful heartbreaker of a story about duty, family, and love in Civil War-era Texas.
I will tell you, if there is a thing harder than facing danger, it's knowing it's headed your way.
It's 1868 in Texas, and a stagecoach that's off track and in trouble (with a fortune tucked away inside) turns out to also hold unexpected passengers: pregnant Nell and her four-year-old son, Tot, who are fleeing from Nell's abusive husband and his vindictive, terrifying "Swamp Fox" family.
When nineteen-year-old orphan and frontier carpenter Benjamin Shreve encounters Nell, he determines to shepherd her and Tot to safety. But their trip to the Gulf of Mexico is fraught with danger--and Nell's husband and his murderous brothers may be hot on their tail.
The book is fully epistolary, as the story is told in a book-long letter from Benjamin to Tot. It started off a little slowly for me because Benjamin shared so many details of thoughts and in setting the scene, but I ended up loving the delivery of the story as Benjamin shares understated, thoughtful reflections and begins to express burgeoning emotions and vulnerability.
I loved the Old West setting, the relationships, the unlikely allies, the high threat level, the danger and chases, the few quiet moments--all of this.
The sourcing of and use of the madstone here is something I may never get over--it was both somewhat disgusting and absolutely fascinating.
I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company.
If you're interested in this book, you might also like the titles on my Greedy Reading List Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West and Six More Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West.
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Elizabeth Crook is also the author of The Which Way Tree; The Night Journal; Monday, Monday; and other books.