Pairings Project: MAKE ME NO GRAVE by Hayley Stone
Updated: Aug 24, 2019
TLDR; MAKE ME NO GRAVE is an exhilarating ride through a magic-infused Wild West with characters that are anything but black and white.
(Scroll down for cocktail pairing.)
Westerns may be the only literary genre I never got into. I was never really exposed to it as a kid, and the impressions I had gathered from afar never appealed to me. It seemed the genre was full to the brim with hyper masculinity, misogyny, uncomplicated morals, and trite storylines. There was the taciturn leading man who would rather shoot first and ride off before asking or answering any questions, and the leading lady was some homesteader or saloon girl who was nothing more than a safe refuge and reminder to the leading man that bad was bad and good was biblical.
Thank goodness I didn’t let my preconceived biases keep me from MAKE ME NO GRAVE. Author Hayley Stone has written a riveting and complicated story where good and bad are anything but clean, and the leading man and his gal are certainly not cut from the unsoiled cloth of cliche. Sure, Marshal Apostle Richardson is taciturn, and he thinks he has a handle on what law and justice are, but when he comes up against Almena Guillory, the Grizzly Queen of Kansas, his black and white world is rendered in technicolor. The book isn’t strictly western, as there are strong elements of fantasy and and undercurrent of romance, but there is no denying the taste of dust in your mouth and the feel of wide open space where anything and everything can happen.
Stone deftly explores themes of law versus justice, the traumas of war, and the complicated ability to define oneself under the yokes of the past and one’s reputation. Carefully deploying elements of fantasy and alternate history, Stone tells the story of a federal Marshal and his latest bounty and how they become unwilling allies in a fight against something bigger. Whether that something is the utter lawlessness of the Wild West or an impostor capitalizing on The Grizzly Queen’s own ruthless reputation, Apostle and Almena have to grapple with how far they’re willing to compromise their own understanding of the world.
Almena is a brilliant character, with a spine stronger than the steel of the railroad but with an underlying trauma that is inextricably bound up with her greatest gifts. Apostle is so desperate to be the good guy, the hero, but he struggles with what that really means, whether it’s part and parcel with religion, or if there’s something more immediate that he’s missing. He insists “Sometimes standing up for what’s right often means standing alone.” But Almena reminds him, “Standing on the moral high ground only makes you an easier target.” Watching these two find their way to the truth that is somewhere in the middle is what made this book truly shine for me.
THYME WILL TELL
For a drink pairing with MAKE ME NO GRAVE, I wanted something that evokes the feel of a classic drink but with an element for both of the main characters. I knew I wanted a whiskey or a bourbon drink, so I found this variation on an Old Fashioned (though my husband told me I cannot call it anything close to an Old Fashioned #GetOffMyLawn). This cocktail marries the sweetness of maple syrup and the undertones of an honest herb, blended together with an earthy bourbon.
0.5oz maple syrup
0.5oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
In a shaker, muddle thyme leaves with a few drops of lemon juice. Add rest of ingredients, shake with ice, and using a mesh strainer, strain into rocks glass with ice. Garnish with fresh sprig of thyme.