Review: Lone Women by Victor LaValle

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Blue skies, empty land—and enough room to hide away a horrifying secret. Or is there? Discover a haunting new vision of the American West from the award-winning author of The Changeling.

Adelaide Henry carries an enormous steamer trunk with her wherever she goes. It’s locked at all times. Because when the trunk is opened, people around her start to disappear…

The year is 1914, and Adelaide is in trouble. Her secret sin killed her parents, and forced her to flee her hometown of Redondo, California, in a hellfire rush, ready to make her way to Montana as a homesteader. Dragging the trunk with her at every stop, she will be one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can cultivate it—except that Adelaide isn’t alone. And the secret she’s tried so desperately to lock away might be the only thing keeping her alive.

Told in Victor LaValle’s signature style, blending historical fiction, shimmering prose, and inventive horror, Lone Women is the gripping story of a woman desperate to bury her past—and a portrait of early twentieth-century America like you’ve never seen.


I love Victor LaValle and I look forward to everything that he writes. It is no surprise how excited I was to learn that the following up novel to The Changeling was going to be a historical horror novel set in the American west. I know that westerns and horror have been popular lately (see Death Head’s Press’s Splatter Western series), so I was really excited to see what LaValle would bring to the table.

I thought of the movie Airheads when the title was revealed, the 90s comedy starring Brendan Fraser and Adam Sandler. Their band was called the Lone Rangers, and someone made the comment of how can they be “lone” if there are three of them? I started this book with this same question in my head. How could they be “lone” if the title refers to “women”? It is discovered that “lone women” refers to homesteaders in Montana, particularly single or widowed female homesteaders who traveled to Montana to cultivate the land. Adelaide Henry shows up from California to stake her claim, carrying nothing but a steamer trunk that is almost too heavy to move. There are secrets inside the trunk. secrets that Adelaide and her family have spent her lifetime trying to hide. Now that she is out in a land of endless isolation and wind, the only thing that she can do is face her past and her secrets.

LaValle might be talking about “lone women” being those single homesteaders who are working the land to make a life of their own, but the “lone women” element also refers to the differences between Adelaide as an African-American homesteader and the way the white women in the nearest town of Big Sandy treat her and the other few minority women. The Reeds own the opera house and the entire town. Jerrine Reed leads the Busy Bees social club, and one of their commitments is promoting female ran businesses. One of the businesses is a new laundry service by Mrs. Metta Sterling and her son. The thing about this is the town already had a female ran laundry service, but the person in charge of that, Fiona Wong, happens to be Chinese. There is a fissure between the white women and the minority women in town. The minorities become their own faction, not only because they are are pushed away from the other women in town, but also because they do not seem swayed by the influence of the Reeds. These outcasts turn into “lone women” and band together to form their own close knit group. 

Lone Women does have enough different elements in it that keeps the story moving and interesting. This story is a fresh mix of not only horror but of mystery, adventure, and politics, but the freshness is heavily steeped in so many elements that are classic to horror. I love all of LaValle’s novels. This is not my favorite one, but it is enjoyable and a very solid western horror.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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