In Renee Thompson’s debut, The Bridge at Valentine, cattle and sheep ranchers feud over contested Idaho grazing lands. July, free spirited daughter of a Mormon shepherd, falls for Rory, the son of a cattleman. This may be ripe territory for yet another tale of star-crossed lovers, but after allowing a brief romance, Thompson discards Shakespeare’s template in favor of a twist more suited to the romantic optimism of the American West. Thompson’s July is no repressed Juliet. She is a frontier woman, a child of the land, fierce, strong-willed, self-reliant, and willing to sacrifice family and community for a chance to live on her own terms.
Thompson places the reader breathlessly within a difficult landscape. We feel the heat and cold, smell the rot of carcasses and cured leather. She excels at relaying the hardships of everyday frontier life and I was impressed and satisfied by the pacing and the meticulous attention to clear, balanced detail. The Bridge at Valentine is a promising debut from an author to watch.