Travel Documents 43: Juniper Wars Book 1: Armageddon Girls

Armageddon Girls
The Juniper Wars, Book 1

Aaron Michael Ritchey
Genre: post-apocalyptic, Weird West, spec-fic

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The Dust Cover Copy

On a desperate road through the most dangerous place on earth, three sisters find a boy who could be their salvation, or cost them everything.
It is the year 2058.
The Sino-American War has decimated several generations of men, and the Sterility Epidemic has made 90% of the surviving males sterile.
Electricity does not function in five western states. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana are territories once again. Collectively, they are known as the Juniper.
It is the most dangerous place on Earth.
On a desperate post-apocalyptic cattle drive to save their family ranch, Cavatica Weller and her two gunslinging sisters stumble across a rare boy. Sharlotte wants to send him away, Wren wants to sell him…and Cavatica falls in love with him.
Little do they know that an inhuman army is searching for the boy and will stop at nothing to find him.

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

Now this one’s a real rip-snorter! (Readers be warned, I’ve been listening to a book about the post-apocalyptic Wild West all day. I’m going to make cowboy-slang jokes. Don’t try to stop me.)

It begins with bad cards in an impossible poker game, and the Devil grinning the players down. And the stakes they’re playing for? The family farm, and the future.

It’s a classic Western story, in a whole new Wild West. And that’s the strength of Ritchie’s writing: taking old ideas and refitting them into something entirely new and wholly engrossing.

Take the gender-relations situation in this new and slowly healing America. 10% of children born are sons. 10% of those are Viable. This means that a boy who can keep the species going is one in a hundred. You can imagine how that effects their value to society. And society itself has changed. Women run the world now. Women comprise most of the population. It’s had some good results: lower crime rates, for one. It’s also ushered in a New Morality among many Christians, stressing piety, hard work, and couples forming on the basis of love rather than the doweries a wealthy girl’s family can pay to a viable boy’s. It’s also brought a resurgent disapproval of lesbians, now called Jillians. This new take on gender and gender relations is quite a trip. And so is the demographic shift of America: with the population depleted after a war between America and China, immigration was incentivized to fill the desperate gaps in the workforce. Now America is heavily spiced with Indian members and Indian culture. It’s fascinating to see how the culture has molded itself to fit these new circumstances.

And speaking of circumstances, welcome back to the ol’ West, pardner. Or rather, the New West. A West with updated zeppelins and trucks that run on steam. With new cattle barons and travelling Viable men servicing the ladies. A Wild West with sky bandits who pull zeppelins out of the air.

For all its weirdness, this is a surprisingly realistic and believable world. Ritchie leads us down the path his culture has taken to reach its current position step by plausible step. Every individual circumstance is well reasoned and logical. But taken together, it’s a fantastical and unexpectedly fresh Wild West. Reviving the corpse of the Western isn’t an easy feat, but Ritchie has done it in style.

The Crowd

Characterization

No Western tale is complete without desperados, colorful characters, cheats, liars, lovers and hard-bit heroes. With the occasional snakebit-mean one in for good measure.
They’re all here, that’s for sure.

The story revolves around three sisters: young and untried Cavatica Weller, her eldest sister Sharlotte, and crazy-wild middle sister Wren. Each has her own sorrows, her own pains and joys. Each is complex, a full being in her own right. Each has her own story to tell. That is, if they don’t strangle one another first.

Revolving around these three central characters are a wide array of misfits, hard workers, loyal friends and brutal enemies. Ritchie has done a great job of balancing characterization with color, giving us a cast that is both quirky and human. I particularly enjoyed the interwoven threads of faith and culture throughout the story: these people’s beliefs ground them in a tradition, making them that much more alive. Don’t worry, the New West isn’t stocked with tropes, though they may be dressed up in tropey wardrobe now and again.

The explorations of personal trauma, personal responsibility, and the bonds of family born and found make for powerful people. The things that pull us together and apart are unflinchingly explored in all their nuance.

The Lingo

Writing Style

With fun neo-western slang, candor, careful thought and great action, this story bucks along like a bronco under his first saddle. Ritchie writes in the voice of Cavatica, the style that of a personal journal-come-confessional. This was the perfect choice: her homespun phraseology, sharp mind and ready young woman’s candor make her the perfect access character.

The quotes at the beginning of chapters really add weight and depth to the overall world, pulling us ever deeper into its history with elegant speed.

The Moves

Plot

Keeping a steady pace that fits in solid action while still leaving time for thought and breathing space, this story trots along at a good clip. Ritchie balances situational elements perfectly with interpersonal conflicts. The only point I stuck was in a character literally dropping out of the sky into the plot, but hey, after a bit, it really grew on me.

This story also allows us to reflect on who we are: as Americans, and as human beings. But it never preaches. It just passes the ammunition.

Overall Rating

Grab it before it gallops off on you! This is a story you’ll want to read. There’s mud and blood. Faith and grit. Rage and rawhide.
And most of all, there’s hope.