Little Century book coverLittle Century
Author: Anna Keesey
Narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Published 2012 by Blackstone Audio
10 hours – Unabridged

When 18-year-old Esther Chambers’ mother dies suddenly in Chicago just as the 19th century is turning to the 20th, Esther finds herself alone in the world, without family or prospects for the future. Invited to the Oregon frontier by Ferris Pickett, a distant cousin whom she has never met, Esther accepts his offer to take her in and boards a westbound train.

Upon arrival in the rough-hewn hamlet of Century, in the high desert of Peterson County, Oregon, Esther learns that her cousin — known to everyone as “Pick” — has an agenda in which he has already cast his young relative in a central role. A successful rancher and the acknowledged “big man” of the town, Pick is the owner and boss of the robust and prosperous Two Forks cattle ranch, but he has his eye on an adjacent piece of land that happens to be open for claim. If Esther will pretend to be 21 and spend five years of nights in the humble cabin a mile away by the shore of Lake Half-a-Mind, Pick will be able to purchase the claim from her and make it his own.

Esther is the greenest greenhorn that a city girl could be, but she is also a quick study, and soon she has mastered horseback riding and begun to try her hand at growing a small crop of alfalfa on the Half-a-Mind claim. She makes the cabin into a home for herself, and Pick begins to see that Esther’s utility might extend even further. He has been a bachelor long enough, and heaven knows the ladies of Century never tire of speculating on when he might select a wife. Almost without realizing she’s done it, Esther soon finds herself entering into “an understanding” with Pick, the implication being that when she’s a little older and feels ready, the two will wed.

But things are more complicated than they seem on the wind-blown range lands surrounding Century. An ongoing feud over grazing land between the cattle ranchers and the sheep herders is escalating and turning more bitter, vindictive and violent by the day. Esther is more or less willing to go along with the cattlemens’ point of view and shun the sheepmen … until she gets to know Ben Cruff, the young sheep herder assigned to dig her a well in payment for one of his family’s alleged transgressions. Before long, she is questioning the official version of everything she’s learned since coming to Oregon. When her good friend Joe Peaslee, the eccentric owner of Century’s general store, goes missing, Esther has more questions than ever.

Tavia Gilbert’s narration buoys up the story and carries the listener along. She is a natural for Esther’s ingenue voice and point of view, and is equally adept at portraying the range of other characters, from the gossiping womenfolk of Century to the rough-and-tumble buckaroos (they hate to be called cowboys) of Two Forks. She makes it easy to forget that you’re hearing just one person read from a page, as the people of 1900 Oregon come to life all around you.

Little Century is enough of a western and enough of a romance that you can rest assured a rosy sunset and a happy ending await in the final tracks. However, the trail thereto is littered with enough trouble and heartache that the listener feels the satisfaction of contentment and redemption well earned.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.