San Antonio Rose
I’ve read a lot of historical romances set in Texas, but almost all of them were set in the 1870s and 1880s. When I saw that San Antonio Rose was set during Texas’ War for Independence, I couldn’t help but be interested. It was an exciting time in history that is woefully underused in romance novels. Unfortunately, while I loved the setting, the characters couldn’t quite live up to their intriguing backdrop.
Emerada de la Rosa (whose name my stubborn brain kept translating as Esmeralda) is a woman playing a dangerous game. As Sam Houston is training his army to fight the Mexican General Santa Anna, Emerada approaches him and offers him help. She can get information from Santa Anna, but she won’t tell him her real name and she won’t name her price until Santa Anna is in custody. Houston warily accepts her offer, but he has her followed by his trusted Colonel, Ian McCain.
Emerada is most widely known by her stage name – The San Antonio Rose. Her talents as a dancer are renowned, and she likes to end her performances by gathering just one flower from among her many bouquets. It is a rose that is (of course) yellow. When Ian follows her into Santa Anna’s camp and watches her dance, he is as captivated as the next man. But when she meets with Santa Anna after the performance, he is disgusted, because he is sure she must be Santa Anna’s mistress. Nothing could be further from the truth. Emerada has vowed revenge against Santa Anna for murdering her family, and she intends to bring down his army in order to get it. Thus she goes between Santa Anna and Houston as the war rages on, from The Alamo to Goliad to San Jacinto. Meanwhile, Ian never quite trusts Emerada, but he can’t get her out of his mind either.
Then the war ends, and unfortunately, the bloom is off the rose. Emerada spends the second half of the book lying to Ian so she can disguise her true feelings, and running away from him so they can be separated. Up until this point, Emerada really seems larger than life; she’s a beautiful, influential spy who manages to thrive during a dangerous time. Then the war ends and suddenly she is all too human. She pretends not to care for Ian even though she is madly in love with him, and purposely says hurtful things to drive him away. She gets mad at Ian for believing that she slept with Santa Anna – but she had told him that herself! Then she keeps running away, and suffice it to say I lost patience with her. Ian is better, but not much. There’s nothing wrong with him, but he has nothing to set him apart either. He really just seems like rent-a-hero – a generic figure that could be in any book.
Part of the problem lies in the timing of the book. While I loved the Texas Revolution setting, it’s important to remember that the war was a very short one; it lasted less than two months. O’Banyon starts the book at the beginning of the war, which I think is a mistake. The most interesting conflict ends when the war does, and then the hero and heroine have nothing to do but fight and bicker. It would have worked better to have the book begin in the months leading up to the war, so the war itself could be the denouement.
I enjoyed this setting so much that I wish I could recommend San Antonio Rose more highly. But a great setting alone does not a great romance make. Without good characters to match, the setting becomes just so much landscape.