When asked as to why Ashley wrote this book she states: “All of the characters leapt onto the page from a place deep within my soul and imagination. Ruby embodies the spirit of millions of women who have found the courage to speak up about past abuse and risen from it stronger.”
Ruby Fortune faces an untenable choice: murder her abusive husband or continue to live with bruises that never heal. One bullet is all it takes. Once known as “Girl Wonder” on the Wild West circuit, Ruby is now a single mother of four boys in her hometown of Jericho, an end-of-the-world mining town north of Tucson. Here, Ruby opens a roadside inn to make ends meet. Drifters, grifters, con men, and prostitutes plow through the hotel’s doors, and their escapades pepper the local newspaper like buckshot.
An affair with an African American miner puts Ruby’s life and livelihood at risk, but she can’t let him go. Not until a trio of disparate characters: her dead husband’s sister, a vindictive shopkeeper, and the local mine owner she once swindled threaten to ruin her does Ruby face the consequences of her choices. With grit and resolve, she does what she needs to in order to provide for herself and her sons.
Set against the breathtaking beauty of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and bursting with Wild West imagery, history, suspense, and adventure, Hardland serves up a tough, fast-talking, shoot-from-the-hip heroine who goes to every length to survive and carve out a life for herself and her sons in one of the toughest places in the American West.
“One of the top standalone Westerns of 2022.” —True West Magazine
“Gritty and fierce . . . Hardland is a powerful tale.” —Cowgirl Magazine
“Ashley E. Sweeney minces few words as she unravels Ruby Fortune’s fate on the early Arizona frontier. Wild west performer, drug addict, ardent lover, mother, and murderer, Ruby’s story is gritty and unabashedly raw. She quickly learns she is sometimes no match for the trials that come her way, but she survives as only she knows how—with her strength, her wit, and her gun. Spellbinding from beginning to end.” — Jan Cleere, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner of Military Wives of Arizona
“Gritty, honest, and real. Sure to be on everyone’s TBR list.” —Nancy E. Turner, award-winning author of Light Changes Everything
“Open the pages of Ashley Sweeney’s wonderful new book, Hardland, and you’ll find yourself in an 1899 Arizona Territory town so authentic you can smell the dust and feel the hot wind that brings it. As Sweeney’s charismatic and resilient character, Ruby Fortune, says, you “have to grow scales to survive here.” Ruby is as vivid and unforgettable as characters come, and you’ll find yourself turning page after page as her life unfolds—because in Sweeney’s hands, Ruby’s life becomes as real as your own.” —Susan Lang, WILLA Literary Award-winning author of Small Rocks Rising
“A powerful and gripping tale of survival and triumph over abuse, misogyny, and economic challenges. It rings as true in the 21st century as it did in the time frame in which it is set. A must-read!” —Jim Jones, award-winning author of The Lights of Cimarrón
“Smart, savage, and bold as brass, Ruby Fortune’s strength and sense of survival explode from the pages of this portrait painted by master storyteller, Ashley E. Sweeney, using the harsh, historical Arizona Territory as her palette. Through captivating and unsettling events, Ruby’s independent spirit, ingenuity, and sheer guts held me hostage from the first vivid page to the last.”—Laurie Buchanan, author of the Sean McPherson mystery series
“Ruby is a difficult woman, in the best way possible. She shoots, she kills, she enjoys lustful sex. She survives. She protects her children and the people she loves. Literature is filled with men like this. But there are very few Rubies. Reading her story, I reveled in her life-force. She is a newly described American archetype.”—Shelley Blanton-Stroud, award-winning author of Copy Boy
“Ruby Fortune doesn’t harden her heart or break apart at the cruel hands of domestic abuse, but gains compassion and strength in her ultimate journey to wholeness by fighting for dignity and self-worth, loving fiercely those close and deserving, and by welcoming all to her table and more. A bright and resilient gem of a woman in an unforgiving land.” —Debra Thomas, award-winning author of Luz
“Ruby Fortune leaps off the page. She defines grit and grace—the heroine we need in these times. Riveting and beautifully told.” —Susan J. Tweit, award-winning author of Bless the Birds
“With a name like Ruby Fortune, the protagonist’s path should have been laid out, but she’ll have to claim every step herself, in ways I’ve never read about before Hardland. Ruby is as tough as the land—she cusses and shoots, rides horses, entertains and cooks, and takes no guff from men, though she’s married to a mean one for whom she’ll need an answer, but not before real damage is done to her and her boys. It’s the remarkable cast of characters Ruby surrounds herself with that makes her story sing-—her father Big Burl, her chosen mother, the fortune-teller Divina, the harmless, Shakespeare-quoting drunk Wink she puts up in her shed, the lawman Sheldon Sloane, and the Black miner with whom she falls deeply in love, too early for her time. Ruby’s is a thrilling ride across the hard land of Arizona in the early 1900s as one woman takes on and tames the West. At least for now. Ashley Sweeney’s third novel is a courageous stunner.”—Gretchen Cherington, author of Poetic License
“It’s 1899 in Arizona Territory and life for Ruby Fortune, Girl Wonder on the Wild West circuit is like riding an eight-minute bull in a one-woman rodeo. One minute she’s hanging on and riding high; the next, life punches her in the gut and throws her to the ground, leaving her bloodied with more questions than answers. Knowing the gifted writing Ashley E. Sweeney has offered in her past works, this gripping and fast-paced novel is one of her best.”—Deborah Swenson Book Reviews
“Ruby’s story is a testimonial to human endurance, resilience, and love. She embodies the tough spirit of millions of women who have found their voices giving them the courage to speak up about abusive relationships and making them stronger . . . a perfect choice for a book club.” —Sock Fairies
“There is nothing sentimental about turn-of-the-century Arizona Territory. The sun beats down relentlessly, the ground is unforgiving, eking out a living is impossible; eventually, your heart turns calloused, too. In Hardland, Sweeney (Answer Creek, 2020) makes Arizona a character.”—Booklist
“Sweeney’s stunning portrayal of this tough-minded woman is both compelling and memorable. The fast-paced and intense narrative reaches far beyond the classic Western genre for a wide range of readers who value survival, honesty, and love.” —Historical Novel Society