A Distance Too Grand
A Distance Too Grand is the first book in the American Wonders series highlighting epic locations in the United States. This book takes place in the Grand Canyon and is all about a guy, a girl and the things we do for love.
Meg Pero is a determined woman. Raised by her father, a famous photographer, she is more used to traveling the world to obtain the perfect shot than gracing elegant drawing rooms, but his unexpected death has left her in a precarious position. She has no desire to live with her aunt and let that sour and austere lady find her a husband. Meg wishes instead to use the training her father gave her to forge her own path as a documentarian, capturing rare and breathtaking images which bring unique people, places and events into the homes of folks around the world. However, for that she needs more money than dear old dad left her, so she heads to Ft. Wilverton, AZ Territory resolved to fulfill the final contract Mr. Pero had signed, agreeing to be the photographer for a survey of the Grand Canyon and the territory surrounding it. The army had commissioned M. Pero to take the necessary stills and that is exactly who will do it. It’s just that in this case, it will be Meg not Matthew who does the work.
Captain Ben (Benjamin) Coleridge is a desperate man. He defied his father and become an army engineer rather than a cavalry officer because he wished to “explore new lands, chart new territories.” He was anxious to lead the expedition Matthew Pero had been hired to photograph since it would augment the work of the Wheeler Survey of 1869 in looking for a wagon road across the West, which was critical for troops, settlers and sutlers who dreamed of an America that extended from sea to shining sea. Ben was excited to head the excursion for personal reasons. He had met both Matthew and Meg while at West Pointe and had even briefly courted Meg. That she had broken his heart when she choose to follow her father on his next adventure rather than marry Ben has not changed the fact that he likes the family and enjoyed the time he spent with them. He had looked forward to seeing Matthew again and is surprised and saddened to learn of his death, although this in no way reconciles him to taking on Meg as part of the team in Matthew’s place. She is a lady and has no business joining a rough riding group of soldiers and scouts on this hazardous journey.
Meg quickly talks him around however, pointing out they already have one woman on the squad in the form of spunky, tenacious Dot, the camp cook, and reminding him that she is an experienced traveler, having joined her father on numerous perilous quests in search of the perfect snapshot. Ben has a secret reason for capitulating rather easily; his father vanished two months earlier during an initial exploration of the route they are going to take. The weather will soon make it impossible to examine the terrain they are to cross for any clues regarding what happened to him, so Ben’s best bet for learning his father’s fate is to launch the expedition as quickly as possible.
Which he does, leading to a grand adventure filled with beauty, treachery, danger and romance.
Ms. Scott has been writing love stories for over twenty years and follows a formula here that will be very familiar to readers; a feisty, independent heroine who proves the values of feminism to the world around her, especially to the man whom she believes sees her as nothing but a pretty and proper young lady. The good news is that in spite of the standardized format, the author creates characters rather than just caricatures. Ben is a good man, kind, fair, hardworking and open minded and willing to accept Meg for who she is over whom (she believes) he wants her to be. Meg is more than just ‘feisty’ – the author shows her as an astute judge of character, compassionate, sweet and deeply observant. While her stubborn streak was at times extremely irritating – I felt more than once it was a deux ex machina to serve as conflict for the romance – she is an accomplished and resourceful heroine. During the course of the story, we also spend time with some lovely secondary characters, Dot and Hank Newcomb, who are warm, funny and down to earth people that lend a very ‘western’ feel to the story.
The romance here is also done according to a pattern I’ve seen used many times before. It’s the classic trope of a self-reliant, career-minded young woman who needs her hero to assure her that he actually admires that about her and has no intention of changing her. Meg also fears being a detriment to Ben’s career since she lacks the skills to navigate the fine society of the upper echelons of the military, but this is easily resolved by the end of the book. The characters work well together and while I would have preferred a bit more wooing and courtship, the connection they make as they produce the survey serves as a nice foundation for their HEA.
This is an inspirational so faith is discussed. Ben reads “a few passages (of scripture), sing a few hymns . . . reminds them (his troops) to lead lives of honor and productivity” while Meg comes to a greater understanding of God’s love for her. The author does a nice job of presenting us with people whose interest in and love for God bears an important place in their life without author or characters overtly judging those who don’t feel the same way.
I do have reservations about another aspect of the story, though. While I appreciated Ben’s desire to open the western United States to settlers in order “to give men chances (for). . . homes, occupations, families” , the tale fails to convey that these opportunities came at the cost of the people already living in the area. The ‘natives’ as they are referred to in the novel, are portrayed as a nuisance, not as the rightful owners of the land about to be settled. While that way of thinking typified the 1800s it is not reflective of modern society nor does Manifest Destiny reflect current biblical theology. Fortunately, it is only briefly mentioned but unfortunately, this is a big issue in real life for many. It should have been better addressed both from the purview of faith and from the greater understanding we have now of the harm done to indigenous people by imperialism.
A Distance Too Grand is a light, easy read that will be comfortingly familiar to the author’s fans. That said, the combination of the poor handling of the political and deeper theological questions of the text in addition to the trite plot keep me from giving this book a recommendation. AAR has given several DIKs to Inspirational romances this year and I would urge readers looking for a faith filled romance to pick up one of those stellar novels.