Jim Fergus’ book is such a fun wild west book that is a great enjoyment to read. Each of the main characters has their own amusing quirks that adds to the story. The book follows a seventeen-year-old boy named Ned Giles. Ned enjoys photography, and after both his parents die, leaving him without any relatives he really knows, he decides to join an expedition heading down into Mexico to save a boy that was captured by the Apaches. Unfortunately, Ned is at first not accepted into the expedition because he is not of the upper class, but he later gets a job as co-photographer of the expedition, along with an extremely unfit man named big Wade.
Ned Giles is a likeable teenage boy that goes through a bit of growing up. However, the plot is not very focused on his journey as a dynamic character. Though I wish Fergus did write in more ways in which Ned could have grown as a character, but the story moves along fine without it. My favorite character was Tolley Phillips: a rich young man who goes through life optimistically, even though life may not always be in his favor. Tolley is capable of turning any situation into a party, yet he also knows when it’s a time to be serious. Then there’s Jesus: a young Mexican boy that Ned hires to carry his camera. Jesus, like Tolley, adds a lightness to the sometimes dark passages of the novel. The Apaches and Mexicans share a violent history, and there is frequent mention of violence, including murder and rape (however, there is usually only mention of such events, the only graphic part is the description of a severed head). Another character who I admire is Margaret. She is a strong female character that gets her fair share of heroic moments, and not without her own tragic back story. I found her to be a very well-developed character that added what La Niña Bronca (Ned’s love interest) couldn’t. La Niña Bronca is an Apache Indian who was captured by a hunter by the name of Billy Flowers, after her home is attacked. She was taken to a jail in town by Flowers, and put on display for everyone around to see, for few had seen a “savage girl” before. The character of La Niña Bronca can be confusing at times, and though Fergus does a good job of revealing everything that needed revealing about her, it did feel like she lacked something. A little more dimension to her, instead of just depicting her as some marvellous yet mysterious being would have greatly improved her character. Adding onto that, I do think that Fergus dehumanised her in a way by focusing on what made her so marvellous, instead of what made her human as well. Additionally, even Ned often referred to her as “the girl” instead of by her real name, which she tells him a few chapters into the book. That was what I liked least about the book, but the rest was great enough for me to be able to overlook that.
I liked that the book was based on historical fact, and loosely based on actual events. The author did make a note that he could not write the Apache Indians to the fullest accuracy due to lack of resources, but it was nice to be able to hear the sides of both the Mexicans and the Indians from Ned’s narration. Ned (though not without his own prejudices) has been a consistently open-minded guy for his time, and provides a good neutral point of view for the narration of the history of the conflict between the Mexicans and Indians.
Overall, the read has been fairly easy to follow and understand without being too simple. I love the balance of seriousness and humour, which adds to the enjoyment.