The premise of this book sounds a little silly: the main conflict between the hero and heroine is that he’s a sheep farmer and she’s a cattle rancher’s daughter. Yet, it brought back memories of 4th grade state history class when we learned about range wars between cattlemen and sheep farmers in Wyoming. So in that respect the author was historically accurate, and since I was feeling homesick for Wyoming, I decided to read the book.
We’re introduced to Mariah Garrison, the oldest daughter of one of the most powerful cattle ranchers in Sheridan, Wyoming, as she waits under the town’s kissing bridge for Stuart MacCallum, a local sheep farmer. Stuart thinks that Mariah has lured him there as some kind of joke, and is shocked when she produces an injured lamb she’d found. Before he leaves he bends down to kiss her and begins a four-year courtship they hide from their friends and family. As soon as both are of age they become engaged and reveal their relationship to their families and the town. Everyone begins to shun Mariah – even her own father. And then Stuart starts finding his sheep murdered. Can their love survive when everyone is telling them it’s wrong?
It’s really a simple story, but it seemed to drag on forever. Ms. Jocks pounds it into the reader that cattlemen and sheep farmers just don’t get along. Every page we’re told how the sheep are eating up all the grass and destroying what the cattlemen had worked so hard for. The sheep farmers are just as quick to point out how the cattlemen are bullies who use terrorist tactics to force them off the land. This grows old after the first ten pages, so after three hundred I was a little tired of hearing about it.
Amazingly, even hearing this all her life, Mariah believes that once she tells everyone she loves Stuart they will accept their relationship. Mariah is a very naive. Right up to the final pages she doesn’t believe that cattlemen can do anything wrong, even when she’s confronted with sheep carcasses and discovers her father had hired hands beat Stuart after they announced their engagement. I wanted to shake Mariah, but at the same time you couldn’t help but understand her dilemma of loving her father and believing the best of him while learning what cattlemen have done.
Stuart’s main problem was his stubbornness. He was as bad as her father in not trying to find a happy medium for Mariah’s sake. He didn’t notice when his parents made Mariah miserable, and he made her feel guilty any time she accepted gifts from her family of things he couldn’t afford. Though his most annoying quality was the fact Ms. Jocks has him speak with a Scottish dialect. Which would’ve been fine, but we’re told he’s a third generation American (his grandfather fought for the Union in the Civil War), raised in Sheridan, a place known for being settled by younger sons of English gentry and not Scots. So where he got the Scott’s dialect is mystery especially when he’s the only one his family to use it.
I think it would’ve helped if the book had been shorter. It felt repetitive at points and when a book begins to drag the reader’s mind will wander, causing them to lose touch with the characters. At the same time this book was believable. In Wyoming at that time there was a lot of bitterness between these two factions and people did actually die. And in a way Mariah’s naiveté fit, because she was only eighteen; it would never have flown with an older heroine. Stuart and Jacob Garrison, Mariah’s father, have reasons for their beliefs, so it would have been wrong for them to suddenly change their tune mid-book.
Even with the inconsistencies I don’t think this was a bad book. Ms. Jocks shows promise and she obviously did her research. Since this novel is the prequel to The Rancher’s Daughters: Behaving Herself, I expect we’ll see more of Jacob Garrison’s daughters finding their soul-mates and I admit I’m curious as to what man will tame chatterbox Victoria or tomboy Laurel. Though I really want Evangeline Taylor’s story (Victoria’s friend and daughter of the town tramp) and there’s enough foreshadowing that Thaddeas Garrison may the man for her. At any rate, I enjoyed this one enough to stay tuned.