Updated: Sep 20, 2019
I was provided with a free copy of this book from Booktasters in return for my honest review.
Finding Billy Battles by Ronald E. Yates is an incredibly interesting story that takes place throughout the frontier of the West in the late 1800s. It is full of action, emotion, surprisingly witty humor, and tales of daily life that illuminates exactly how much we take for granted in our society full of modern convenience.
Ted Sayles is 12 years old when he meets his great-grandfather, William Battles, for the first time. Over the next 2 years, they continue meeting every so often until William Battles passes away at the age of 100, leaving 2 trunks and a bunch of journals to his only male offspring, Ted. When Ted receives his inheritance, he finds that he has been enlisted in his great-grandfather’s final wish, which is to tell his life story. And what a life story it is!
I didn’t expect the tale I found myself reading, and it starts right with the first page:
“I have killed people. And I am sad to say the first person I killed was a woman. It was entirely unintentional, and to this day, the incident haunts me. The next person I killed was that woman’s grown son, and that was intentional.”
I am immediately hooked.
Billy is a young man in Kansas in the late 1860s. His father had passed away during the Civil War when Billy was young, and while his mother is a tough cookie, boys need male role models. Billy’s came in the unconventional form of a free Black man who taught him some of what he needed to know. Billy grew up in difficult times – the Midwest could be a wild and dangerous place, with wild seasonal shifts, lack of medical care, lawlessness, people still fighting over abolition of slavery, and raiding from Native Americans. Naturally, Billy’s mother wants him to go to college, but Billy wants to see the world. He gets his wish, but in a most unexpected way. Billy’s travels take him to amazing and dangerous places, from the Wild West and eventually around the world, meeting many famous people along the way.
I noticed fairly early on that the author makes frequent use of reflection and foreshadowing, often saying things like “it would be a trip I would never forget,” or “but things were about to change.” That kind of language always makes me want to keep reading, even after promising myself I’ll stop reading when I finish the chapter. I would find myself having to stop after reading the same paragraph two or three times because I was falling asleep from staying up so late. But I’d wake up in the morning itching to find out what happened next.
One of the most charming aspects about this book is the use of vocabulary that must have been common in the late 19th century. Some of the words are in the Kindle dictionary. Many aren’t, which is a little irritating, but when using context, I could figure them out for the most part. The descriptions for weapons are pretty funny, like “Kansas neck blister” or “Arkansas toothpick” for Bowie knives, or a “hog-leg” for a gun. I’m not too familiar with weapons, but I don’t think these are commonplace terms nowadays. I think my favorite sentence in the whole book is when someone is trying to tell Billy that he has to do what he thinks is best, but uses the phrase, "you can't chew with somebody else's teeth." I may try to just work this one into conversation the next time I get the chance!
I love seeing a character grow and mature throughout a book. While Billy is 98 when we meet him initially, the story really starts when he’s 18, and most people are headstrong and think they know everything at 18. I know I did. Everyone makes dumb mistakes at that age, and Billy’s have far-reaching consequences. They shape his life, and impact his psyche. He wonders how his life may have been if things were different, although I think that his experiences make him more cautious and as we call it, street-smart. I believe that his past leads to the keen sense of observation that contributes to his chosen career in the first part of this trilogy.
When this book ended, I found myself disappointed that it was actually over, but looking forward to the next book in this trilogy. I want to learn more about the fascinating life of Billy Battles! This book gets 5 out of 5 stars from me. It’s a well-crafted story full of page-turning action, emotion, and sarcastic wit that made me chuckle out loud more than a few times. If you like stories about the Wild West, action, or historical fiction, give this book a chance. There’s a little bit of profanity (son of a bitch comes up pretty frequently), and a few references to prostitution (prostitutes are known as "soiled doves" and one instance where sex is called “squiggling,”) but it’s a surprisingly clean book for such lawless times. I highly recommend this one. Just a word of caution – if you pick it up, be prepared to immediately need to follow it up with book 2 in the trilogy when you finish this one.
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