Emma Lang gives a new meaning to low key in this meandering Western while exploring some less traveled plot paths. I’d never thought much about pacing in a romance novel, but Restless Heart demonstrates how important the peaks and valleys of a story can be when they are scanty at best.
Angeline Hunter, the third wife of a Utah Mormon, has run away from her abusive husband Josiah with his second wife Lettie and settled with her in a small town in Wyoming where they both work at the Blue Plate restaurant.
When he first sees Angeline, “half-breed” newspaper publisher and carpenter Samuel Carver falls head over heels in love. He quickly begins courting her, at first giving her a new copy of a Jane Austen novel since he’s seen Angeline reading on her time off.
Angeline is understandably wary of Sam since she and Lettie are in hiding, having thwarted an attempt by a hired gun sent by Josiah to kill them. Neither of the women know who Sam is, so they are leery of his advances. Sam is nothing if not persistent, even though his courtship time is limited because his father has dementia and often doesn’t know who he or Sam are or where they live.
Gradually, however, Sam’s persistence pays off, and by mid-book he and Angeline are engaged to be married and enjoying premarital sex, much to Lettie’s horror and despite an old boyfriend of Angeline’s showing up in town.
Lang’s leisurely pace and everyday action undercut some of the tension of two women hiding out in a small community. Even when Angeline’s childhood boyfriend comes to town and recognizes her, there’s no sense of panic or foreshadowing in the writing to put readers on their guards that horrible repercussions are in the offing.
Another big stumbling block is Angeline, whom others say is strong and enviable, but whose actions are weak and dependent upon Lettie and then Sam. Her sobriquet “Angel” doesn’t add any depth to her character, but makes her that much more aloof to readers.
Action isn’t needed in this novel; emphasis and better characterization are.