The Bridge at Valentine is a poignant tale of love and discord that takes place in the wilderness of Idaho in the 1890's. At the heart of the story are two families who struggle to carve a living off the land: the Caldwells who raise sheep and the Morrows who are heavily involved in cattle ranching.
The Caldwells and Morrows continuously battle over grazing lands for their herds and the feud between them gradually escalates. One day, as July and her brother Richard herd their sheep over the Bridge at Valentine the bridge suddenly breaks and a large metal cable slices through July. Near death, Richard rushes July home and the area's young doctor is summoned to save her life. Despite the seriousness of her injuries, July survives, but her stern father suspects the Morrows of having sabotaged the bridge.
July heals under the watchful care of the handsome doctor and her loving Mormon family. When she is well enough, she attends a social event where she encounters young Rory Morrow. Irresistibly drawn to each other, they struggle to keep their love a secret from both of their feuding families. Their love is doomed and fate is determined to keep them apart when tragedy strikes despite their efforts to be together. July finds herself torn between family loyalties and an ever burgeoning but hopeless love, and she must make her way through life armed with only her courage and determination.
Renee Thompson used Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as a model for the plot of this story of the American West, but that is where the similarities end. The tale unfolds gradually but with intensity as the plot becomes more complex with each page that is turned. The characters spring to life with credibility and their own individuality because of their human frailties as well as their strengths. It is truly a tale about a woman who must face and overcome adversity in a harsh, unforgiving world where she must make sacrifices in order to survive.
I very much enjoyed the unpredictability of the story, of wanting to know what the characters would do next, of reading through the many poignant scenes, two of which included heart-wrenching tragedies that ultimately forced change upon the lives of the colourful, complex characters in both families. For a first novel, this Western is exceptional and well worth reading. And with a raving endorsement by author Larry McMurtry, who can argue that Renee Thompson is a newcomer to keep an eye on in the future!