Desert Isle Keeper
My Loving Vigil Keeping
AAR reviewed Carla Kelly’s My Loving Vigil Keeping when it first came out. Our reviewer was not happy (you can see that review HERE), and it put me off of trying this book for a long time. Recently, I realized it was included in my Kindle Unlimited, and gave it a shot. Oh, I’m so glad I did.
Della Anders, mistreated orphan relative of the wealthy Anders family of Salt Lake City, takes a teaching position in the mining community of Winter Quarters, Utah, because her own origins lie in a humble mining camp: her mother abandoned her, and her father raised her in poverty until he died in a mining accident. She has learned to shrink herself into the space her family allots her while also enduring the misconceptions of others that she is wealthy and secure. Her plan to be anonymous in Winter Quarters is foiled by the fact that everyone knows the Anders name. What, they think, could she be doing there besides condescending? Slowly, Della begins to make a place for herself in Winter Quarters, supporting students and the community and gaining their respect and affection. Or, in the case of Owen Davies – something even stronger.
Owen came from Wales to mine coal but is also a talented woodcarver. His much-loved wife passed away, leaving him a single father to Angharad, one of Della’s students. He is shy, and for some time, Della remains unsure of his interest. Once Owen declares himself, she can’t face the possibility of loving a man in such a dangerous profession. This is sadly prescient, as My Loving Vigil Keeping culminates in the catastrophic Scofield Mine Disaster, at the time the deadliest mining incident in American history.
I would categorize this book as “historical fiction with strong romantic elements” rather than “romance.” For someone like me, who lives for setting and historical details but does want the comfort of the HEA, it’s a joy. Kelly brings everything her characters touch to vivid life, from the magical holiday displays of Auerbach’s Department Store to the terrifying train ride into Scofield to the centrality of sauna among Winter Quarters’s large Finnish population (where the babies are born, men and women socialize on alternate nights, and where the dead are laid out – except, tragically, there were too many Finns lost at Scofield to fit) I enjoyed learning about the real historical figures in the story, such as “Uncle” Jesse Knight and Richard Evans. Our previous reviewer complained that Della’s rival suitor, physician Emil Isgreen, did not seem like a serious competitor – that’s possibly because Dr. Isgreen was an actual person and would meet his real wife ten years later!
Both Della and Owen are Mormon, as is the author. I am not, and I still really enjoyed this book and its sequel. The characters live their faith (attending church regularly, tithing, asking for and receiving blessings, using the terms “Brother” and “Sister,” etc) but in a way that feels authentic to them rather than posture-y for the reader. Unlike the evangelical ‘redemption arc’ of many Inspys (which caused such issue at the Vivians), the faith arc here is more about learning to ascertain and live with God’s will, even when it is painful or runs counter to what the characters want. No characters convert, and there are even – marvel of marvels in Inspy-world! – sympathetic secondary characters of other faiths and denominations! Hooray, especially for a generous and kind Jew!
What keeps My Loving Vigil Keeping from the full A is the discomfort I felt with the ending. Since this is a romance, and it has a sequel, it will not shock you that Owen survives the mine explosion. What bothered me were the specifics of his survival. Not only does it seem to come due to divine intervention (God apparently not being stressed about the other 200 miners?), but also, Owen allows an entire day to pass before making sure Della and his daughter know he is alive. I get that he might have been overwhelmed but… damn, I’d kill him myself.
If you’re like me, you won’t be able to leave these characters in the rubble, and you’ll have to proceed directly to the sequel, One Step Enough. I won’t write a separate review for it, but I found it just as good. It is more of an internal book than an external one, as Della and Owen struggle to process the obliteration of their community and figure out what to do next. Della has to confront the long-repressed loss of her father. Owen wrestles with survivor’s guilt, and his strategy for assuaging it – returning to mining in the field of safety improvements – sets him at odds with his promise to Della that he would not go underground again. Normally, I’d want to smack any hero who does that, but Owen is truly sympathetic.
If you are willing to read a book which does have a romance, but which is more focused on the journey of a heroine through a marvelously vivid and developed setting, then this is the book for you.