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Forty Grains of Black Powder: Book One of Tierra del Oro Paperback – May 25, 2011
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From the Author
Forty Grains of Black Powder began with a trio of coincidences: a magazine from the past which contained 2 unrelated articles that became the basis for plot points that included murder and motive; a chance statement from a man dressed in black which gave me the title; and, inside my head, the image and voice of a greedy hacendado who hired a gunman to kill a young man he called "Trouble."
This is Book 1 in what eventually became The Cordero Saga, a story of Mexico in 9 novels.
From the Back Cover
Sonora Mexico in the 19th century was a beautiful yet dangerous land. Only the strong survived.
When aristocratic Marieta discovers her bandit husband's grim secret, no one is safe.
Growing up in a household filled with mystery and hate, young Ramón sets out of a quest for revenge and freedom.
TIERRA DEL ORO - one story...one family...one continuing adventure
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Now, the tale is a straight-forward tale of betrayal and revenge with no subplots to distract you. The main character, Ramon, is a likeable young man who leads us on a journey across his country as well as an emotional journey as he matures and discovers the vagaries of life. Our villian, Luis, also goes on a journey and I will not spoil the brew here but say simply there is a great deal of poetic justice and irony in his story as it connects to Ramon.
The story is written in a style I am unused to, a bit too abrupt for me. Transitions were sometimes a bit enigmatic and I got lost here and there. But the actual writing is first rate. The only thing that holds me back from a better rating is the use of Spanish, a great deal of which was not explained. I do speak some Spanish but it has been a very long time. I looked some things up at first, then gave up. Later in the book, phrases are translated but many times I felt as though Hartmann simply "expected" us to know words that I did not.
What would be helpful for future editions is a "Commonly Used Words" in the beginning of the book, so that I had a quick reference for words that reoccured often. When speaking in a foreign language, I never assume that my reader will automatically know and understand. Additionally, I never make them leave the book to find out something if I can help it.
Finally, this is a western that has a few surprises at the end. Love, Betrayal and Revenge might be the orders of the day, but it is the tale of how we go from one to the other and what we find along the trail (can you say "earthquake?") that makes this book unique and worth the read. If you like westerns you will truly enjoy Forty Grains (and by the way, what the title means is very cool!)
It's been a long time since I have read a western and this is a good reintroduction to the genre.
Solid writing---interesting descriptions, the blending of english and spanish worked well (and I've never had spanish), a plot that carried you along and an ending I wasn't expecting.
I especially liked Hartmann's development of the characters of Ramon and his mean old "son-of-a-b" stepfather Luis. I liked the fact that more about Luis's theft of the gold was revealed later in the book---bit by bit peeling back the layers.
You get the sense of the piling up of sins weighing him down. He couldn't fully enjoy all his wealth because of his past. He used everyone, inspired fear in everyone, but was still unfulfilled.
The weird stuff (voodoo type primitive enchantments) with Manuelo was well done and undefined---so much like real life.
Job well done! The book cover claims it is a saga, and I'm ready for the next installment.
Ramon is never truly accepted by his father, and after his mother is gone, their relationship becomes even more strained. There is neither love nor trust between them; they barely tolerate each other. When Ramon finds a map of possible treasure hidden by his father, he sneaks off in search of it.
His father, fearing that Ramon will discover the true origins of his wealth and what really happened to his mother, hires a hit man to kill his son. But Ramon is no longer a boy and proves to be more of an adversary than his father could have imagined.
The plot moves at a swift pace, and there are more than enough dramatic incidents to maintain reader interest throughout the story.
The characters are well drawn and well rounded. Each has their good and bad traits which enhances the believability of the story. Told primarily from the perspective of Ramon and his father, the shifts in POV are expertly handled and add to the mounting tension as the final chapters switch between the two as they inexorably head for a showdown.
Well researched details of life in Mexico in the 19th century, from the landscape to village life, to the language and food, make the story come alive and help to immerse the reader in the story. Forty Grains of Black Powder is a good read and highly recommended. I look forward to the next book in this series.