A Stolen Time
A Stolen Time is a promising debut novel about love and redemption. It’s romantic and often enjoyable, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. Uneven characterization limits the effectiveness of the love story.
Janet Garret is a member of the notorious Garret Gang, led by her father and brothers. Disguised as a man, she helps hold up banks and wagon trains. She doesn’t particularly want to spend the rest of her life this way, but she’s been taught that the life of an outlaw is the only one worth living, and that townspeople are sheep waiting to be fleeced. Then a heist goes wrong and Janet’s father is shot. In desperation, she shoots a lawman in the leg and escapes.
Several months later, Janet is on her own – her father is dead and her only surviving brother is in jail. In the town of Shasta, California, she hears of a job opening as the town schoolmarm. She gets the job as a temporary stopgap until her brother gets out of jail, but she learns to love the people of the town and the children she teaches. She also learns to love the town marshal, the idiotically-named Dagger Blackthorne. But Dagger’s brother Blade (snort) is the man Janet shot and crippled, and Dagger has vowed to hunt down and kill the remainder of the Garret Gang. Janet knows she can never tell him about her past.
The nicest thing about this novel is Janet and her transformation. She’s a very fun character. When she first comes to town she’s picking pockets and openly thinking about snatching a few good books from the local bookstore. She can shoot, fight, swear, drink, and shin up a rope, but she’s not your usual spunky tomboy heroine. At first she views her job as schoolmarm as a masquerade and enjoys pulling the wool over the townspeople’s eyes. But she gets to know them and soon she longs to be one of them, delighting such humble pleasures as town picnics and feminine underwear. Her unorthodox way of dealing with schoolroom miscreants might well make this book a guilty pleasure for teachers everywhere.
Dagger Blackthorne (I’m sorry, did I already mention that that’s a really stupid name?) is a far less well-drawn character. He’s more of a symbol than an actual human being – he’s a lawman, the kind of guy Janet has always feared, the guy who wants to get revenge on her family. There’s some mention of an Indian past, but we’re not given any details and it’s not terribly relevant to anything that happens in the story. Since I never felt that Dagger was a real character I didn’t find the romance terribly compelling.
This is a Big Secret book, which anyone who has been following my reviews knows is far from my favorite plot device. I was happy to go along with this one for the first 200 pages or so – I mean, how do you tell the man you love that you shot and disabled his brother? I also generally liked the way this plot was resolved.
A Stolen Time is set in a very idealized American West, filled with gossipy but harmless townspeople and adorable children. Though I enjoyed Janet, the hero doesn’t have much depth to him, which makes the love story less interesting than it could have been. The western romance seems to be a dying genre and it’s nice to see a talented newcomer enter the arena. This isn’t a perfect romance, but the author is one to watch.