Review of Ride On by Gwen Cole. Review copy provided by Netgalley.
In the near post-apocalyptic future, the skies are always gray and people are constantly searching for the sun. For teenage outlaw Seph, it’s the only world he’s ever known. With his horse, his favorite pistol, and his knowledge for survival passed down from his dead father, Seph knows it’s safer to be alone. But after a run-in with a local gang that call themselves the Lawmen, and having been wrongly accused of murder, Seph teams up with Avery—a determined girl whose twin brother has been taken by the same gang.
After living in a small, rundown town her whole life, Avery knows nothing of the Wild—the lands controlled by nobody where travel is risky. With Seph’s help, they track down her brother but quickly find the tables have turned and they are now the ones being hunted. With rumors of mysterious dangers to the south and a safe sanctuary to the west, they’ve only got one option, but getting there won’t be easy with the Lawmen on their trail. The only thing that matters in the Wild is how fast your trigger hand is, but Seph doesn’t know if his will be fast enough to save them all.
I received a copy of Gwen’s debut novel, Cold Summer, last year and was blown away by her craftsmanship. So when I heard her second novel was a post-apocalyptic western, I didn’t hesitant to request it. Gwen’s writing is like an impressionist painting— subtle and more like a feeling that haunts you through waking hours because it’s so beautiful. Ride On showcases this style in every single way. From the opening sentence to the final period, Ride On captures something that is hard to describe, a feeling of hope and family and wanderlust.
Let me just say that the cast of characters in Ride On makes my heart skip a beat. First, there is a pair of siblings, twins, and their relationship is spot on. As a middle child I love my siblings, and occasionally hate them, and it’s frustrating to see how YA sometimes pushes that relationship to the side for the sake of plot or development. Gwen put it front and center. Avery and Finn’s relationship is such an important part of the plot, yet it doesn’t get sidelined for the sake of moving the plot forward. Instead, Gwen uses the sibling relationship to push the plot forward, to drive characters, to showcase a normality in a world of foreign.
Staying with Avery for a second longer, I want to say the realness in her character is astounding. Ride On is a first person dual POV but to see the world through Avery’s lens was such a genuine and heartwarming experience that I just want more. The relate-ability of her character and the honesty of her thoughts (which are some of my favorite parts in the book) make her a character that I will always remember as one of the most well crafted I’ve ever read.
And then there’s Seph. We open with Seph’s POV and it is breathtaking. The opening scene is still one of my favorite moments in this book because it’s raw in so many ways that cuts to the soul like a knife through butter. For me, Seph is such a dreamer, a person driven by wanderlust that reflects something in our souls nowadays. You find yourself lost in this book like Seph gets lost in his thoughts, and it’s so darn endearing to him.
Should I mention the horses? Because they’re pretty adorable. The bond between animal and human is something that has always fascinated me because it’s an unexplainable relation. Being primarily a western of course you’re going to have horses and a bond between owner and animal, but the way Gwen writes showcases her talent for craftsmanship in prose.
The world-building in Ride On… it’s luscious and rich in every sense. Between the asphalt and dirt, the rolling plains and towns, the smell of dust and sea; it magical. That’s the only way to describe this setting. That fact that there is nothing fantastical about the setting, aside from post-apocalyptic sky, grounds the world and the reader in a setting that is plausible, frightening, and ultimately beautiful in a stark way. “But really? Post-apocalyptic western,” you ask. The mix of long-buried billboards, rusted vehicles, and wide brimmed hats and revolvers is something I didn’t know I needed, until I started reading. I honestly had never read a western before, but I trusted Gwen to build a world that felt real, felt like a dream, that felt like home.
I also have to say this, I was reading in e-format and didn’t realize the end was coming. Needless to say I was completely unprepared for the massive amounts of emotions that I went through at 11pm. Because THAT ENDING! But alas, I shall not say any spoilers.
I can’t sing enough praise for Gwen’s work; she brought me to tears, both the happy and sad kind, and gave me something I had no idea I needed. I don’t think I would have trusted any other author to write such a compelling and heartfelt story like Ride On. There’s a uniqueness that I feel only Gwen could have captured in this story, and it sets my heart on pins and needles because of its beauty and genuine heartwarming nature.
So here’s the no shame plug to preorder this book, because a journey is only as good as who you spend it with, and I’m in need of some companions.
Her Imperial Majesty,
The Literary Empress