It is somewhat of an on-going surprise that I have come to really like historical fiction set in the Old West, a context that failed to interest me for many years. Now I find that these stories hold my attention to a far greater extent that I would have ever thought possible. This book is certainly not an exception. It is, in fact, quite an unusual tale and one that should be well-received by lovers of historical fiction based on the American West, especially the development of Texas as a state.
In many ways this is not an unusual scenario in the Texas frontier time of 1826: a family comes West to find land and a place to call their own. Circumstances develop which takes the husband and father away from the homestead. Word comes back that he has been killed in an Indian attack. Now Kit Barclay, her toddler son, her mother-in-law and her husband's sister are alone and completely on their own. Having taken refuge at a U. S. Army Cavalry outpost, they are left, for all intent and purpose, to live or die on their own, not knowing if they can survive the coming winter, or resist possible Indian attack on the fort. The soldiers left to assist them are dead along with Kit's toddler son, felled by the onslaught of a killer fever. Only these three women remain and are within weeks of starvation, with no hope of rescue in sight.
A lone horseman is sighted, slowly making his way toward the fort. Is he friend or foe? As he comes closer it appears he is slumped in his saddle, possibly dead. Trace Watson is barely alive, and is suffering from that same fever that took her son's life. Should she offer help to the handsome stranger at the possible cost to their lives and their resources? It appears that she decides that she must aid him, and nurses him back to health. But this is only the beginning of their journey together and not necessarily any guarantee that their "happily ever after" is anywhere in sight.
This story is full of energy and emotion, characters that are wonderfully human, and a family dynamic that is not always a happy one. Kit is a strong and determined woman who has put the welfare of her remaining family before her own health and well-being. She is plagued by a mother-in-law who is determined to keep Kit mourning her dead husband for the remainder of her natural life. Her husband's mother is never far from a complaining tirade--the food, their location so far from her home in New Orleans, Kit's decisions which are always questioned, and ultimately her attraction to the stranger that has literally dropped at their gate. Her mother-in-law's barbed words wound her less and less as she finds warmth and acceptance in Trace's embrace. Their affair bring ease to her sense of abandonment, but cannot erase the sadness and sense of loss from the deaths of her husband and son. Even though they must make one last attempt to reach civilization in order to survive, leaving behind her son's grave is the hardest thing Kit has ever done.
This is not a simple tale of boy meets girl. It is full of the drama of survival, the discovery of a new love, and the complications when that love must deal with reality. The emotional baggage of the past is ever present with both Trace and Kit as it is with all of us. This story never gets easy. It moves from scene to scene that are filled with the tension of surviving hunger and possible violent death, from crisis to crisis, from joy to hurt and back again. There are developments in Trace and Kit's story that are mind-bobbling, and which caused me to wonder if these two were ever going to be able to find resolution together. The context takes the reader from the wide open wilderness of Texas to the upper eschelon of New Orleans society. And in the midst of all this is a tender and fragile love that may or may not survive.
I have not ever read any writing by MJ Frederick, but I am impressed with the scope of this novel and how well-written it it. The plot is well crafted and the story line moves forward without dead spots or delays. The characters are real, so very believable and remind me of people I have known--people who may be living in contemporary times but who have to deal with some of the same emotions and family dynamics. The author has made the tale even more compelling with the unexpected twists and turns which take the reader in directions for which there were no clues. Several were real jaw-droppers for me. There was the quality of a Greek tragedy which is only relieved by the persistent awareness that Trace and Kit's connection seemed so enduring.
This is a feast for the love of historical romantic fiction that embraces American history. I found it vastly entertaining. I read it from start to finish in one sitting. I highly recommend it and feel it is a worthy additon to this genre. I give this book a rating of 4 out of 5.
This novel was released by Carina Press on 06 September 2010.
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