Author: Louis L’Amour
Mood: If you’re dying to go camping but it’s not camping weather or you can’t get time off but you just really want that outdoorsy feel.
Jubal Sackett was my first-ever L’Amour book, and I only read it this year. Even though I worked at a library for 15 years and handled his novels hundreds of times, I never once actually read one.
Why not? Zero appeal.
Even though I loved Western movies, the books always looked so f*cking CHEESY. I judge books by their covers. That’s literally why they have a cover, so you can use it to judge them. And older Western novels all look basically the same – like skinny Harlequin romances for men.
But then I got super into The Sacketts TV movie. It has exactly what I love most in Westerns – Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott’s moustaches. My boyfriend’s dad saw my delight, and said I should read the books. He loaned me Jubal Sackett to get started.
Normally this would put me into all kinds of discomfort, starting a series out of order. Jubal Sackett is the last book L’Amour wrote in the series, and the fourth in chronological order. Either way, it’s not the first Sackett book. (You can read my review ranking the entire Sacketts series in order to learn more!)
I was going camping and needed a solid book to last three or four days. Jubal Sackett is 338 pages (way bigger than the other Sackett novels), and so I decided to give it a try.
Holy crap. Not only was this a fantastic read, but it was the perfect f*cking book for camping.
I read Jubal Sackett in 24 hours. I was surrounded by trees, building a fire, and feeling a total kinship with Jubal. I became obsessed with being one with the forest, foraging for wood and doing what I thought was a reasonable attempt at ‘tracking’.
In reality I spent 15 minutes analyzing a suspicious tire track outside our campsite, only to realize it was from my own car; I’d had a couple of beers at that point – beer goes great with L’Amour.
Jubal isn’t like the other Sacketts. He’s a loner, and lives most of his life solo in the woods. He hunts, he fishes, and he builds shelters as needed. His goal is to keep moving west, and see those ‘far blue mountains’ his father always talked about.
The writing is simple, yet you immediately feel immersed in the land. L’Amour claimed to have walked every trail and seen every sight in his books, and I believe it. I was impressed that the story was so captivating, considering much of it is just one dude roaming around camping.
Another surprise for me was how L’Amour treats Indigenous characters. In the 1620s, white explorers would have been super prejudiced toward other races and cultures. But that’s not how the Sackett boys were raised – Barnabas respected the Natives he met upon arriving in a new land. He went out of his way to befriend them, learn their dialects, and to establish trade relationships. That’s why most Sacketts can speak numerous Indigenous languages, and they’re all respectful of other people (until given a reason to fight, at which point they will kick all the ass).
Jubal’s BFF through the book is a strong and wickedly smart Kickapoo named Keokotah. This guy is like Jubal, a loner who can’t really go back to his people. They become co-loners, still mostly silent but kind of attached to each other’s company. Keokotah’s wry observations about white people and Jubal himself are damn funny.
I was warned that L’Amour doesn’t write women well, but the central female in Jubal Sackett is given a pretty sweet role. She’s a princess in her tribe, the leader of a hunting expedition, and totally independent. Like, you know they’re going to get together, but you’re totally okay with it because they’re both awesome.
The only shitty thing about this book is that it ruined me for all other Sacketts.
I’ve collected the entire series from various thrift stores, and switched back to chronological order. The books are hit and miss – most have pretty good plots, but the writing in at least half of them so far isn’t anywhere near as captivating.
If you’re going to read just one L’Amour, read Jubal Sackett.
Oh wait, there’s one more shitty thing. In Ride the River (1983) there’s an author’s note that says L’Amour planned to spend the next 10 years writing about the generations of Sacketts between the novels set in the 1600s and the ones in the 1870s. Two years later, he gave us Jubal Sackett. But L’Amour died in 1988, so we’ll never know how he envisioned that 200-year gap in Sackett history.
I fully wept when I read that. It hurts my heart to know that his epic, carefully researched work went unfinished. This is my personal J. R. R. Tolkien tragedy, because I like cowboys more than Hobbits.