Bound for Eden
Début author? Western romance? Why yes, sign me up please. Bound for Eden is quite unlike most of the Westerns I’ve read, but once I got into it, I quite enjoyed myself. This novel has plenty of adventure, but pairs it with a light and humorous tone which makes for quite the wagon train romp.
The book opens in 1840s Mississippi as the recently orphaned Alexandra Barratt finds herself once again fending off the unwanted advances of a no-good Grady brother. We quickly figure out that the Gradys are brutal bullies, and since the local sheriff won’t stand up to them, Alex and her siblings find themselves on the run. Naturally, as so many good historical heroines on the run do, Alex disguises herself as a boy.
Determined to escape, Alex and her family make it to St. Louis only to discover the murderous Gradys hot on their trail. Next step? Independence, Missouri – the starting point of the Oregon Trail. At the other end of the trail they hope to find their older brother, the only family any of them has left in the world. Fortuitously, the group encounters wagon master Luke Slater and work their way into his party.
And from here the complications (and the fun) really get going. Luke is gorgeous, of course, so all the women swoon over him from the saloon girls to Alex’s teenage sister. Alex herself is not immune to his charms, but since she’s supposed to be a boy, this naturally creates some problems for her. The author cleverly throws in a campy scene where Luke gets to see Alex as a woman. Naturally, Alex is disguised, but even so, Luke can’t stop thinking about the mysterious and lovely lady.
If you only like your Westerns serious and angsty, Bound for Eden may not be your cup of tea. It’s more Blazing Saddles than Unforgiven, so definitely not a traditional Western. It’s campy, sometimes silly, often absurd and funny. Because of the book’s tone, I read the characters as caricatures to an extent, but even so, the repeated references to Luke having to practically beat women off with a stick got tiresome. And yes, Alex is definitely ‘feisty’, which is something that cuts both ways in the story. Sometimes, I admired her guts and work ethic but there were times when her headlong rush into crazy antics got on my nerves as well.
While this book is plenty of fun at times, it does still have its flaws. Though he shapes up by the end, Luke can be kind of a jerk at times. On the one hand, he does take Alex and her siblings under his wing; but then again, one kind of wonders if he might not be the Western version of a Duke of Slut. With those quibbles and the somewhat rushed ending, I can’t call this the perfect Western. However, if you have an appreciation of the campy and somewhat ridiculous, this one can be fun.