Desert Isle Keeper
Sing My Name
Sometimes I crave a saga, something long and involved like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander that seems to go on and on. Only instead of time travel set in Britain, I’d like something set in the old West. Fortunately, new writer Ellen O’Connell has stepped up to fill the bill, and I can’t wait for her next Western.
The first thing readers should know is that O’Connell’s American West, like Gabaldon’s 18th century Scotland, isn’t a comfortable place. In fact, as Western romances go, O’Connell’s are harsh and uncompromising. They reflect the kind of perils and fortitude faced by people like those in the Donner party who weathered the grizzly, disastrous winter in the Sierras and later went on to forge what some would call average lives for themselves.
Divided into three sections, Sing My Name spans the years 1867-1875 and is told in the rambling, down-home style that’s central to Western storytelling. Part one begins as Boston born Yankee Sarah Hanson is traveling west with two older Army wives to meet her fiancé, Major Carter Macauley. At a fort on the way, she sees former Rebel soldier Matt Slade, a prisoner who is shackled and being badly mistreated. Horrified, she goes to the commanding officer and asks that the prisoner be fed and treated more humanely. Surely, the fact that he’s shackled is debilitating enough.
While her traveling companions are upset that she’s inserted herself in something that’s not her business, the unfairly accused Matt is grateful. Consequently, when Comanches attack the group and her two companions are killed, he saves Sarah. Their trek to the fort where her fiancé awaits begins and is nothing short of grueling.
As they work their way there, Matt pushes Sarah to stop being a pampered miss and to begin being self-reliant and strong. O’Connell writes poignant scenes of their interaction as Matt never doubts Sarah’s ability to handle the privations they suffer. Matt and Sarah predictably fall for each other and have sex, and if this were a standard romance, this would be the end of the book. But O’Connell, thankfully, doesn’t accept this as true, lasting love.
When they finally reach the fort, starved and wearing tattered Union uniforms, Sarah’s fiancé is embarrassed and horrified by her. He breaks their engagement, convinced she’s a fallen woman and banishes her to the washroom where the camp whores work.
Matt is charged with stealing Army property, despite the fact that both he and Sarah needed the food and clothing to survive. He is railroaded at his trial and sent to prison—but not before he’s beaten so badly by Macauley that he loses an eye and nearly his life. Sarah, with few friends and disowned by her family, escapes from the fort and must build herself a life knowing she is pregnant and destitute.
Part two follows Matt after prison and Sarah securing a job and lodging for herself and her daughter Laurie. Here readers get to see the characters grow and change to adapt to the circumstances surrounding them.
Part three is really what romance is all about. Gunslinger Matt finally meets up with waitress Sarah. As he takes in her solid place in the community disguised as a widow, he decides that although he still loves her, he isn’t worthy of her love, even though he realizes that Laurie is his daughter. Their journey to happily ever after is far from over.
Interesting supporting characters flesh out the story, making O’Connell’s world totally realistic. At some points readers will almost be able to smell the dust and feel the heat of the incessant sun.
For those readers who need even more closure than O’Connell gives in the last chapter, she offers a downloadable afterword on her Web site. All in all, I can’t wait for O’Connell’s next foray into the wild West.