Regular Contributor Shannon Ross is back with a review of THE WAKE OF FORGIVENESS by Bruce Machart.  I would’ve probably judged this one by its cover, so I’m glad we have Shannon to dig a little deeper!

Need a post holiday book escape? Bruce Machart’s The Wake of Forgiveness tells the story of the Skala family and provides a fascinating glimpse into the rural Texas town of Dalton at the turn of the 19th century.

The story features Karel Skala, the fourth son of Czech immigrant Vaclav Skala, who in the first pages enters the world while losing his mother in childbirth. Vaclav, instead of compensating for his sons’ lack of a mother, is tyrannical in raising his children, hitching them to the plow daily in a display of his hostility to those who took his beloved wife from him. After his wife’s death, Vaclav is known throughout town as a bitter man, and only takes solace in his two prize racing horses.

The arrival of Guillermo Villaseñor to Dalton, with his abundant riches and three beautiful teenage daughters, causes the townspeople of Dalton to take notice. All but Vaclav, who ignores this new resident until Villaseñor arrives at his farm to offer his three daughters’ hands in marriage, with a generous cash and land dowry for each. Vaclav turns down this offer, unwilling to give up his sons as manual labor. Villaseñor ups the ante by offering a wager over horseracing:  if Vaclav’s horse wins then he keeps his sons and acquires the new land, if Villaseñor’s wins, the sons are his grooms. Vaclav is intrigued by this wager and confidently readies his youngest Karel as jockey for the race.

Over the coming days, Karel becomes secretly acquainted with his opponent, the expert rider and youngest Villaseñor daughter, and is instantly infatuated. Karel then has been given the responsibility of maintaining his family name and gaining his father’s esteem, with the knowledge that a loss would also hand his adored to one of his older brothers.

The resulting race, its outcomes, and the future of Karel and his family follow. As the novel alternates between Karel’s childhood, the time of the race, and his adulthood, Karel’s origins are more fully revealed and his perspective throughout life better understood. Other characters that touch the family are woven into the story throughout, revealing how the Skala family impacts this small town and how one event can influence the course of a family’s trajectory.

If you think a story centering on Old West cowboys is not for you, I completely understand…. but I would recommend taking a look at this novel despite that! I found the story to be captivating and the plot to revolve around forbidden love and coming of age as much as horses and life in the West. While not the most upbeat novel, the story was also a quick read, and one that held my attention throughout. All in all, The Wake of Forgiveness is definitely an intriguing and worthwhile read.

— Shannon Ross, Regular Contributor