Santa Fe Passage
In the 1820s, storekeeper’s apprentice Matt Collins sees his chance to rise in the world by joining the Missouri trade, ferrying goods overland to Santa Fe. He learns Mexican business ways and marries into a local family, eventually becoming a Mexican citizen. When war threatens between the U.S. and Mexico in 1846, Matt is called to the White House to consult with President Polk on ways to prevent bloodshed in New Mexico. He must then decide where his loyalties lie.
I learned a lot from this book about the history of the American Southwest and what life was like on the Santa Fe Trail. Bauman obviously did his historical research, and thoroughly. But he fell into the trap which trips up many a first-time historical novelist: too much history with too little characterization. I didn’t identify with Matt or the other wooden characters. One character’s fate is telegraphed far in advance, and another’s long backstory has little to do with the plot and is awkwardly stuck in, mid-story. It’s too bad Bauman didn’t spend longer polishing his characterizations—this could have been a first-rate novel about an interesting period in North American history that gets little play in the historical fiction genre.