The Particulars: Historical western romance, 2004, Ballantine, in print and available digitally. Also, neither here nor there, the last book Osborne published before she selfishly decided to abandon me and retire from writing. Not that I'm bitter....
The Review: I'll be blunt: with a couple of exceptions, by and large my reading so far this year has ranged from "meh" to "I can't finish this." This weekend I DNF'ed two new victims, one of them by a writer I normally enjoy. I was starting to get punchy. People, I was getting desperate. So I asked myself, "Self, what do you feel like reading?" The answer was: a western. Yes, I have a stack of review books a mile high, but I was at my breaking point. I needed to be selfish. I needed to read something that was calling to me. And this book by Maggie Osborne won the race.
I inhaled it in 24 hours.
Matthew Tanner is a prosperous mining engineer and he's just gotten word that his father has been kidnapped. He's currently staying outside Carson City, Nevada and the kidnappers are demanding that he bring $50,000 to Denver in three months or his old man bites it. Scaring up the money isn't an issue, getting to Denver is. He needs an experienced scout to lead him and his two hired guards. What he gets is Fox.
Fox is a remarkable woman with a sterling reputation. She made a name for herself traveling through the west, alone. A woman, traveling the west - alone. She's resourceful. She's smart. She's also stubborn, and won't take crap from anyone. After a rival guide shoots her in the leg, she and Peaches, a black man she's known since she was a child, settle in a small cabin and scrape together a living by harvesting ice. But it's been a mild winter, and Fox has had time to brood. After years of avoiding it, she's now determined to have revenge against the man she feels ruined her life - a mine owner named Hobbs Jennings. She knows the man is in Denver, and is thinking about making the trip herself when Tanner shows up. She's not wild about taking some greenhorns on the trip, but hell - Tanner's money is going to pay the way. So she doesn't have to go to Denver on her own dime, and she gets to where she needs to go. Win, win - right? Well that is, until the trials of the trip and falling in love with Tanner smack her in the face.....
I love road romances, which is probably another reason why I like westerns so much. I like that element of adversity that so easily fits into the setting. This entire book is pretty much devoted to the trip from Carson City to Denver. Besides the attraction brewing between Fox and Tanner, Osborne also rounds out the cast with very intriguing secondary characters - Peaches, plus the two hired guards that Tanner brings along to protect the money. These characters added a lot of depth to the story, and I soon was swept up more so in the group dynamic, than in the budding romance. It just made a really good mix.
Fox is pretty much a standard issue Osborne heroine. I hate to use the "tomboy" label for her, mostly because I feel strongly that she's a product of her environment and circumstances. Hobbs Jennings stole her life from her. What was left for her to do was make the best of the situation - and that meant finding her own way out west. So yes, she's a hard woman on the outside. But on the inside? That's another matter entirely:
"She wasn't afraid to step in front of a gunslinger itching to squeeze a trigger, but she was afraid of an officer's wife who was probably small and delicate and about as threatening as a kitten, whose only weapon was ridicule."Ultimately what is standing in the way of the romance is the fact that Tanner and Fox come from two different worlds. He was educated in Boston, had his tour in Europe, wears nice clothes and smokes good cigars. She's worked on the docks in San Francisco, had to eat out of garbage cans some nights, has worked as a guide, and even lived with some Indians for a time. These two people won't fit together in polite society, but that doesn't make the attraction between them burn any less. It also means that if they want to make it work, they'll have to find a way. I loved that Osborne doesn't make her heroine morph into a pod person to make it happen.
For a long time this book sat around my B range. It's extremely readable, and I was inhaling it, but it didn't quite have that oomph factor. A huge chunk of the conflict relies quite heavily on convenience and we do enter Big Secret territory. I'm still not sure if I'll ever want to reread it (typically my requirement for an A read), but damn - it made me cry. There were moments at the end of this story where my heart about beat out of my chest and....my eyes leaked out some tears.
I, generally, do not cry over books. I just don't. Cold-hearted soul that I am.
But Maggie Osborne made me cry, and I flat-out loved the characters here. They all really came to life, and I got very emotionally invested. I did feel one secondary character is left twisting in the breeze slightly at the end (mostly because by that point I was so invested I wanted to know everything....), but really I'm just splitting hairs. It was a great read, and just what the doctor ordered.
Final Grade = A-