By Aaron Michael Ritchey
Reviewed by Miranda Boyer
I had to look up the the last Aaron Michael Ritchey book I had the privilege of reading; it was back in June of 2015. Nearly a year ago, I finished Long Live the Suicide King and I’ve been itching at that empty part of me waiting for the next piece of fiction from Ritchey so that I might get my fix.
This time last year I met Ritchey and he told me about this wonderful new series he was writing. The way his face lit when describing a futuristic post-apocalyptic cattle drive was worth a thousand words. You can imagine my surprise and delight when I received an ARC of The Juniper Wars: Dandelion Iron. I breathed a little easier knowing that after many long months, the wait and come to an end.
The year is 2058 and the Sino-American War caused many problems for the world. The first and arguably the biggest problem was the Sterility Epidemic, causing 9 out of 10 men to be sterile as well as 9 out of ten births to be female. The second largest problem was due to the Yellowstone Knockout. New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, as well as the edges bleeding into bordering states have no electricity. This makes up what is known as The Juniper, the wildest most dangerous part of the world. While the rest of civilized society moves on and embraces technology, cures cancer, and are working hard to save the earth; those in the Juniper are left to function in the dark ages of what resembles the old west.
In Dandelion Iron, book one of six in the Juniper Wars series, we meet Cavatica Weller. She has fully embraced civilized life and going to school in the city. She’s even made peace with the fact that she’ll probably never have a boy of her own. Until her gunslinging sister Wren shows up at her school forcing her to run for her life back to the Juniper. Her oldest sister Sharlotte is holding down the family ranch, with bad news to bare. In a last ditch effort to save the family ranch, Cavatica and her sisters will take on the most dangerous outlaws the Juniper has ever known.
During this Firefly-esk book, a rare viable boy who falls from the sky. Literally. Only how much do the Weller sisters know about him? Wren wants to sell him for the millions he’s worth while Cavatica has fallen head over heals in love and Sharlotte is caught in between. It’s easy to forget how emotional teenagers are when you no longer suffer with the highs and lows of teenage hormones, when everything is life or death. In this case though, the world really is life and death and falling in love with a strange boy who fell from a zeppelin makes it just a bit harder. Or is easier?
There is a strong dance in Dandelion Iron around what is right and what is wrong. The world starts a little black and white for Cavatica. She tends to see things strongly one way or the other, despite her own internal reservations. As the book progresses, we see her start to listen to the internal voice that tells her the world isn’t so black and white as she once thought. I have little doubt that we won’t see more of this as the series progresses.
This book is about so much more than everything I’ve said before. It’s also about family, three sisters who could not be more different if they tried. But whose love and commitment to one another keeps them together. Dandelion Iron is a coming of age story and while I don’t know for sure, I would guess that it’s the beginning of something much bigger to come.
Ritchey’s writing never ceases to delight. His pros never fail to pull at the heart strings, and promote strong visuals. Ritchey’s work is the perfect example of showing a reader the story with words and not telling them outright. Everything from the landscape to each character has been developed so completely that it is all as real in my mind as if I’d witnessed everything myself. English teachers everywhere will be proud.
Now if you’ll please excuse me for a couple of days, I have book two to melt into next and I’m dying to know what happens to the Weller sisters and their beefsteaks out in the Juniper.
Juniper Wars: Dandelion Iron
Release date: April 11, 2016