Desert Isle Keeper
Every once in a while the tried and true is set slightly askew to great effect. Carla Kelly is famed for her ability to take oft-used regency characters/settings and make them fresh and thought provoking. She’s able to make you think of the people and the times they lived in a different light. Yvonne Jocks has done the same thing with her latest in The Rancher’s Daughters series.
Proving Herself is the third book in Ms. Jocks’ series. Laurel Garrison is the second oldest daughter of a well-to-do and respected Wyoming rancher. She’s eighteen and determined to claim a homestead and start her own ranch. She successfully lays claim to her 160 acres, but in order to prove up her claim she has to live on it. The problem is her father has no intention of letting his daughter spend a harsh winter alone “proving” her claim. What’s a girl to do?
Laurel’s solution comes in the form of Lord Collier Pembroke. Collier is the second son of a Viscount who has been exiled from England. His exile is not because of anything he’s done but because his older brother, who is not interested in women and had as good as promised Collier to never marry or father an heir, suddenly changed his mind and left Collier out in the cold (figuratively and literally). He’s desperate to find some investment for money his family has been sending him so that he can know he’s not like the other useless “remittance” men who are seen as useless and worse. When he hears of Laurel’s difficulties, he suggests they marry and solve both problems.
Laurel and Collier (Cole) as character types will be familiar. She’s a tomboyish girl/woman who, though she lives in 1897 Wyoming, longs to be independent and remain unmarried. He’s a British aristocrat who is a fish out of water in the untamed American west. What isn’t apparent in these thumbnail sketches is the depth given to each character. Even in their most unlikable moments, and they do have them, they shine as fully realized people.
Laurel’s desire to remain unmarried isn’t a product of a strong-willed father and her independence isn’t the mindless feistiness of a romance 18-year-old, it’s a wish to find out if she can do the things she wants to, and maybe as the title suggests, prove to everyone else she can. What’s refreshing and different is that although she’s all those things, she’s also quite capable of participating in the society she comes from. No clumsy Calamity Jane here, just a woman who’s trying to determine her place in that society. Her mistakes lead to a better understanding of her situation and some pretty moving realizations about the trade-offs life requires.
Collier is even more interesting. So many British aristocrats, as written by romance authors, are practically all-powerful and all-knowing. They sneer at the society they’re from and always seem perfectly willing to live outside it or give it up. When Collier is exiled to America, he feels shame, anger and extreme loneliness. He’s been sent away from everything he knows and placed in a completely foreign environment. His views on the society he left and his attitudes toward the one he has joined do change, but not without a struggle and certainly not with an “oh well” attitude.
The story made by forcing these two still maturing individuals to grow up was powerful. They are attracted to each other from day one, but the true intimacy of their relationship comes from the very honest friendship they develop as they help each other figure out what they want. Dialogue that rings true and is very often funny balances any some of the more painful moments.
One slight weakness of the book is the backstory attached to Collier. His brother’s situation is clear, but how that affects Collier and his place in his family isn’t as well-developed. It was a minor problem and never truly detracted from my enjoyment of the book which was all-encompassing for me, and kept me up from 11:00 pm to 3:00 am one night. It’s a character-driven page-turner, and in my book it doesn’t get much better.