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Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen (Rowdy, #1) by Chris Mullen

An outstanding debut for a new YA western series comparable to the tales of William and J.A. Johnstone.

After the boy saw his father and brother gunned down from his hiding place under the front porch, he fled the homestead in a skiff, escaping downriver. But only days into his tragic trip, a sudden storm destroyed his small boat and left him barely clinging to life and a large floating tree. He was rescued by a kindly riverboat captain and decided to join the small crew in transporting goods up and down the Mississippi River.

When Captain Hennessey eventually sold up and retired, the boy, now known as Rowdy, headed west, ending up in Dodge City, Kansas. Rowdy apprenticed to the local blacksmith and settled in to learn the trade and plan his future.

At the time, Dodge City was under the control of Patrick Byrne, a powerful, wealthy, and cruel rancher. Rowdy had a run-in with some of the rancher’s bullies, but he got on Byrne’s wrong side when he talked him into giving him a horse the rancher had deemed worthless and ordered killed. When Rowdy successfully rehabilitated the sickly animal revealing her hidden potential, Byrne sent his goons to take back the horse and kill Rowdy. Things didn’t go as Byrne planned, and one of his men was killed. But the local military fort commander took Rowdy’s side in the matter, and Byrne vowed to take his revenge. Once again, Rowdy was forced to run for his life. However, unlike the men who murdered his family, Byrne didn’t give up so easily. It was only a matter of time before Rowdy’s past caught up with him.

While Wild & Mean, Sharp & Keen starts out quietly enough: an older Rowdy is preparing for a hunting trip with his old friend, Roberson, it doesn't take long for this story to really let loose! As the two friends settle in for their first night’s sleep, memories of Rowdy's past take hold of his dreams. Those memories gripped me, too, as immediately there were boots on the ground and non-stop action and excitement from then on.

The success of this story rests on the shoulders of young Rowdy. He is a likable and sympathetic character, and after everything he’s gone through in his early life, he’s also careful, wise, and deliberate in his actions. That doesn't mean he doesn't have his moments of doubt. He's got tough decisions to make, and I agonized right along with him as he reasoned his way to what was right and just. The story has thoughtful moments with brave decisions and deeds. Rowdy is supported by some good men, but the bad guys are truly bad, with no redeeming qualities. I also liked that his horse, Delilah, and dog, appropriately named Dog, feature prominently in the tale.

The author uses quotes and song lyrics as touchstones for Rowdy as he matures. Each one is important at different points in his life and acts as guidance in the absence of an adult mentor. Though, at times, he encounters a couple of good men that serve that role for him. But most of the time, Rowdy is alone, trying to make his own way, which makes for a good and satisfying coming-of-age story as well as a pulse-pounding western adventure.

I recommend ROWDY: WILD & MEAN, SHARP & KEEN to readers of all ages who enjoy western, coming-of-age adventure stories.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Lone Star Book Blog Tours.

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