I thought I had finally accepted the fact that Maggie Osborne had retired. I thought I was OK with the fact that she selfishly decided to stop writing books for me, and instead wanted to spend time with her family. Ha! Like they need her more than I do. Whatever.
Yeah. I made the mistake of digging out The Seduction Of Samantha Kincade from the TBR. Yeah, I loved it. Damn that woman! Damn her for wanting to have a life!
For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Maggie Osborne fan girl. However she has written books that I'm not madly in love with. That said, even when I'm not madly in love, her books always stay with me well after I finish them. Even the ones I consider "OK" or "Eh." There's just something about her characters. They jump off the page and resonant in such a way that they feel real. They never feel like cliches. Also Osborne was one of the few romance writers out there who took chances and didn't bow to convention. Take Samantha Kincade for example:
As a young tomboy Sam was witness to the brutal gang rape and murder of her mother. That one horrible moment set off a chain of events that destroyed her family, and she has vowed vengeance on the man responsible - an outlaw named Hannibal Cotwell. To achieve this goal Sam passes herself off as a man and becomes a bounty hunter. A very successful bounty hunter. No one knows the truth. Not even her long lost, powerful uncle realizes that his nephew is a girl.
(And unlike other dimwitted romance heroines who merely shove their long flowing hair under a hat - Sam dresses like a man, cusses like a man, drinks like a man, shoots like a man, rides a horse like a man and cuts off all of her hair. You know logical things a woman would do if she truly wanted people to think she had a penis.)
Trace Harden first spies Sam in a saloon and immediately knows he's a she. Frankly he thinks it's rather obvious, but whatever. He doesn't give her more than a passing thought really since he's looking for his half-brother - none other than ::drumroll please:: Hannibal Cotwell.
Sam eventually finds out that Trace is Hannibal's brother and on her uncle's orders (he's a judge by the way), she's to bring Trace in as bait for a trap they plan to spring for Hannibal. But it doesn't quite work out that way, and Sam soon finds herself joining forces with Trace. Seems he wants his brother dead almost as much as she does.
The above plot description should give you a clue that this isn't a shiny happy book. It is very much a gritty western. We have lawlessness, violence, hardship - all the proper ingredients that Osborne uses to make it her own. Sam is so dang prickly that I suspect this book couldn't be published today because the editor would say she isn't "sympathetic" or "likeable." Osborne also chooses to humanize Hannibal. I know, how is that possible? Well we get chapters from his point of view. It doesn't minimize the awful things he has done - but it means he's not one dimensional. Even the most notorious of serial killers had surprising facets to their personalities. Do I feel sorry for Hannibal? Not really. This is ultimately a novel about choices. Sam's choice to seek vengeance and nurse her desire for revenge to the point that she's not sure who she is. Trace's choice to not look deeper at what he thinks he knows, instead vowing to kill his brother. And Hannibal's choices - which are admittedly hard to understand given that he's a raging asshole how rapes and beats women - but there you go.
That's not to say this book is perfect. The author stumbles a bit when Sam accuses Trace of "ruining her life" thus necessitating them to join forces and skedaddle out of town thanks to a posse on their trail. Blessedly this doesn't last too long. Also, I suspect many readers would be annoyed by Sam's "don't want to be a woman because women are weak" argument. But again, this novel is all about choices, and it's up to Sam to learn that gender has nothing to do with how strong a person is. Frankly, this moment of revelation really seals the book for me - leaving it up to her to knock some sense into Trace.
Our boy is naturally dragging around a bit of baggage of his own.
Is this the best Maggie Osborne novel I've read? No. Is it still incredibly good? Yes. I'm going to do my best to move on to another book, but it's a guarantee that this one won't be leaving my consciousness anytime soon. If that isn't the mark of a keeper I'm not sure what is.
Final Grade = A