Grace and the Guiltless (Wanted #1)
Things I loved:
Grace is strong. She's grown up in the desert, and even though she has a setback that almost kills her, she still had a steel heart and tough skin. Having just watched her whole family get murdered, including all her baby siblings, her pain is palpable. It would be easy to have her character let go of that hatred in one book, but that kind of hurt isn't something that seems easy to get rid of. Especially as she witnesses more violence when she's with the Ndeh. I appreciate that Grace is gutsy and takes her life by the reins.
I love that Grace has a fighting spirit, and so eager to learn. Sometimes her eagerness comes off as demanding and privileged. After all, the Ndeh could just kick her out and let her fend off for herself. But she does have a mission, and I appreciate that her relationship with Joe wasn't the resolution to all her problems.
That brings me to Joe. Joe's character was wonderful. He was soft where Grace was hard. He was understanding when Grace was headstrong. All the while, he's still a hunter and super crush worthy. He treats Grace with respect not seen of men in the Wild West. For those who don't like insta-love, you're in for a treat. The set up is there, but the development is wonderful to see. I'm certainly rooting for him in book two.
I was happy to see Grace befriend one of the young Ndeh women, Sequoyah. It was a needed balance to the interactions to Joe and the male elders. The novel read like Johnson did her due diligence with research when it came to the Ndeh culture and way of life. The Ndeh themselves were diverse in character. Not everyone was welcoming to Grace, understandably. Not everyone rushed to love the pretty blonde girl, which is important in order to not create a White Savior complex.
Things that left me wanting:
I wasn't always happy with the way the Ndeh Indians spoke. Writing an accept or dialect is challenging, but sometimes it bordered on cartoonish.
Even though I could tell that lots of research went into the Ndeh, there were times when the Indians come off as these magical people, which is often a trope in Western literature. It doesn't seem unavoidable since someone like Grace newly encountering their way of life is saved by medicine and poultices she's never seen before.
I wished some chapters had stronger endings, but the pacing was great.
Grace and the Guiltless is a fun and gritty adventure set in the Wild West. There is no shying away from the true, often cruel, way of life during this time in American history. Grace is a girl set out on finding revenge but also finds love and family along the way. I can't wait to dig into the sequel, Her Cold Revenge.