Bride of the High Country
Having read several of Kaki Warner’s books, I had high hopes for Bride of the High Country. I expected adventure, romance, and a well-told story full of genuine sweetness. A tall order to be sure, but as I read the first part of the book, I got exactly this. Then I got to the second half, where between the loose ends being wrapped up and the characters from other novels making forced appearances, the beauty of the story somehow got lost. Stylistically, this author is still a cut above many, but with some rushed and occasionally eyeroll-inducing plotting, this book delivers only a slightly above average read.
As the final book in the Heartbreak Creek trilogy, readers finally get the story of one of the most mysterious women to appear in the series. Margaret Hamilton (who also has several aliases – I’m sticking with the name we see first in Chapter One to keep it consistent) has quite the backstory. She grew up poor in the Irish slums of New York and as a child, escaped a brothel fire before ending up in the home of a wealthy judge’s widow. Raised as the widow’s ward, Margaret may not be a leading socialite, but she has a respectable position in Manhattan society. This appeals to wealthy Irish businessman Doyle Kerrigan, so he has courted Margaret without knowing anything of her past beyond her upbringing with Mrs. Throckmorton.
As the story opens, Margaret finds herself in the midst of preparations for her wedding to Doyle. She welcomes the security that the marriage will bring, but has somewhat mixed feelings about Doyle himself. She starts to question his behavior more and more as she observes him in unguarded moments, and she eventually learns things about him that cause her to flee from their wedding, deciding that she cannot go through life married to Doyle and still hope to maintain any self-respect. The enraged Doyle sends his trusted friend and business associate, Tait Rylander, to find Margaret.
Long the more honorable half of the business partnership, Tait finds himself conflicted as he hunts Margaret. He has loyalties to Doyle, but he also worries about what Margaret’s life will be like should she return to Doyle. And this doesn’t even begin to get into Tait’s own feelings for Margaret. In the early scenes of the book, with Doyle still in the picture, readers can sense the undercurrent of tension between Tait and Margaret. And while Margaret is on the run, her interactions with Tait seem believable and the growth of a relationship between them makes sense. The inner conflicts over duty to friends, fear of men, attraction, and each person’s respect for the other party all mix together in a dance that draws Tait and Margaret together at some points, while driving them into arguments at others. Even if some of the plot circumstances aren’t the most realistic, the genuine emotion between the leads keeps the reader engaged.
And then we get to the second half of the book. Once we get to Heartbreak Creek itself, the book starts to unravel. The conflict that comes between the leads makes sense at first. However, much of the rest does not. Without giving too much away, I think it’s fair to say that the tone of the novel abruptly shifts from an adventure-packed and emotional road romance to a somewhat campy tale of single women finding their way to a depressed little town and deciding that they will fix the town and be The Bestest Friends Ever. This is where my eyerolling began.
At this point, the story starts to pile on appearances by repeat characters from the series – some pleasant and some that feel forced. As soon as the various male characters make an appearance on the scene, silly and anachronistic jokes kick in, too. I don’t demand perfect historical realism in my romances, especially not when it gets in the way of a good story, but at times the dialogue in this book read like the script of a bad modern sitcom.
In addition, the various plots in this series had lots of loose ends that needed wrapping up, so over the last few chapters, plots and subplots were being wrapped up left and right. Margaret and Tait still had a lovely story to tell, but it did get rather lost at times. I still enjoy Warner’s writing, but I could have used a little more Tait and Margaret, and a bit less of Heartbreak Creek.