Self-published books can sometimes provide an interesting reading experience since the author herself is usually investing both her time and money into a book born simply out of her love for the story. It’s obvious in Calico Queen that her love of writing and fascination with the people and settings she creates motivate Elizabeth Butler. Unfortunately, as delightful as some aspects of the novel may be, Butler’s fifth book falls somewhat short of the mark.
Daisy Barry, a prim schoolteacher in post-Civil War Illinois, believes that her talents are needed in the Montana Territory and she is determined to get there. To that end, she seeks the aid of her brother-in-law’s friend, Captain Drake Malone. A steamboat captain bound for Montana, Malone has misgivings about having a passenger – especially a female passenger – despite Caroline’s determination to travel with him.
As they travel from Illinois to St. Louis and then on toward Montana, Drake discovers that he enjoys spending time with Daisy and he has trouble keeping her out of his mind. Daisy, for her part, finds Drake exasperating, yet somehow comforting to be around. Each begins to trust the other and as the journey continues they fall more deeply in love.
Butler’s setting is unusual, and her portraits of Illinois, St. Louis, and riverboat life in the late 1860’s are vivid and interesting, as is her evocation of her characters’ world. However, there are frequent typos, and the story does tend to veer too far into unreality at times – especially near the end. This is where a good editor would have helped. There is an interesting story being told here, but sometimes it gets a little lost in the clutter.
The heroine is another element of the book that disappoints. At times, Daisy seems to be a self-possessed and intelligent schoolteacher who appears to have both learned and recovered from her traumatic past. Regretfully, however, Daisy soon starts to become almost TSTL. She allows herself to be taken in too easily by a rather open and obvious villain and begins to move rather unrealistically from warmth mixed with self-control to being almost passive and pliable at times. It was not an outrageous change, but definitely one I found jarring.
With its unique setting, mostly likable characters, and entertaining plot, Calico Queen, has a lot going for it. However, the lack of an editor’s touch is apparent throughout the novel and the uneven development of the heroine’s character, together with some rough pacing of the plot toward the end of the novel, make this an average read rather than the extraordinary one that it could have been. Those looking for the superlative Butler should consider Trailboss instead.