The Strange Courtship of Kathleen O’Dwyer

ElizabethBook Reviews, Historical Fiction, The Nineteenth Century Leave a Comment

Title: The Strange Courtship of Kathleen O’Dwyer

Author: Robert Temple

Publisher: Five Star Publishing

Copyright: December 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-1432895662

Format: Paperback, 227 Pages

Genres: Historical Fiction, Women’s Historical Fiction


What would drive a woman in 1828 to head west across the Great Plains into the Rocky Mountains, risking death among hostile Native Americans, brutish mountain men, and wild animals? Why, the same reason as a man, of course–freedom.Like fur trappers of the early western frontier, Kathleen is a misfit. Growing up in the Irish slums of Boston and watching her mother die giving birth to a dozen children, Kathleen has decided to escape into a career as a school teacher, free of men; but when she sets out along the Santa Fe Trail for distant Nuevo Mexico, she finds that dry powder and steady aim are as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic


Kathleen O’Dwyer is made of stronger mettle than the average woman. In 1828, she travels west to escape the unwanted advances of a widower, the father of one of her students. Most importantly, she is seeking freedom from society and its expectations of her as a woman. She remembers her brutal upbringing in the Boston slums and the sufferings her mother endured. After accepting a teaching position in Santa Fe in New Mexico Territory, she sets out from St. Louis with a cadre of strange men. The journey westward is not without danger, but she is more than willing to brave any challenges. When her fellow travelers arouse the ire of the Comanches, most of the members of the traveling party are wiped out. Kathleen relies upon the help of James Colter, an enigmatic mountain man, who teaches her how to fire a Hawken gun and departs once they get to Taos Pueblo.

Robert Temple immediately pulls you right into the story, and the pacing, with its great balance of action-packed scenes and quieter moments, never feels unnecessarily slow. The characters are memorable and very well written. My favorite was Kathleen herself. I was consistently amazed by how brave she was, especially with all she had to face. Through the author’s atmospheric writing, the world of the Old West comes to life. I was blown away by the vivid descriptions of New Mexico and the Rocky Mountains. It is apparent that Temple did a great deal of research, and it shines through in his writing. I would have liked to see an author’s note to get some insight into his research and motivations behind the book. Overall, this is an enjoyable read.

Originally featured on the History Novel Society website.


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