Texas Destiny received an A at AAR a while back and was selected for the NPR Top 100 Romances list, which I’m reading my way through. I had high hopes for it, but ultimately, it let me down. The hero wallowed in bitter self-loathing, and the heroine’s mix of genteel martyrdom and ability to save the hero by her innocent goodness felt very dated.
Amelia Carson, left penniless by the defeat of the South and the loss of her family’s plantation, answered an ad from Dallas Leigh to come out to his Texas spread as a mail-order bride, but when Dallas breaks his leg, he sends his brother Houston to collect Amelia and bring her to the ranch. Houston was a child soldier in the Civil War and is terribly scarred on his face and chest, including the loss of one eye. He has serious self-loathing for his conduct in battle, blaming himself for the suffering of some others who were with him.
It really upset me that the author expects me to feel terrible that Amelia has lost everything without addressing the fact that it was slavery that made her previous life so comfortable. Instead of pitying Amelia, I felt thrilled, because by “lost everything,” what we mean is “no longer owns human beings.” The author never mentions the fact that all of the traumas Amelia and her family suffer, which are supposed to arouse my sympathy and admiration – poverty, sexual violence, death, separation – were potential daily realities for every slave in the South precisely because Amelia’s family and others like them had the power to inflict them. I could read a former slaveholder heroine if coming to terms with her ill-gotten comfort had been part of Amelia’s emotional journey, but it wasn’t. If only Amelia had, just once, said something like, “Perhaps God has done this to my family because we did it to other families,” or “I lost everything, but I still have myself. As someone from a plantation, I realize that owning yourself is no small thing.”
If I set aside my Confederacy issue, what about the rest of the book? The writing is uneven. I liked the fact that Houston had a consistently laconic and blunt way of talking, but his flowery internal monologues seemed silly and unlike a cowboy. The characters did not resonate with me. Houston is too self-loathing, and the reason is too one-note. This means that all you’re doing is waiting for his epiphany on one measly issue so he can recover from thirty or so years of self-hatred in a few hours and make a happy ending with Amelia. I was also annoyed that a man who is good with horses and practical about travel and survival in the West makes the stupid decision to ford a river that’s running too high and fast so he can get Amelia home sooner. I’ve played enough Oregon Trail to know how that turns out.
As for Amelia, she felt more like an ideal than a woman. I can’t think of anything she did that was short-tempered or imperfect. The refusal of both Houston and Amelia to just talk about Amelia’s engagement with Dallas frustrated me. Despite this, I did see a glimmer of a sense of adventure in her. I liked the fact that she did well on the trail, and I thought the author did a good job showing her bonding with Houston over catching wild mustangs. I could tell that her interests lay in experiencing and living in the West like Houston, not in founding an empire like Dallas.
The setting was detailed. The author did a good job establishing Amelia’s fiance Dallas as the wrong man for her and a man with a lot of flaws, to the point that I’m actually interested in reading his sequel. I liked the younger brother Austin, as well. But on the whole, I just didn’t get the magic here.
|Review Date:||November 26, 2015|
|Book Type:||American Historical Romance | Frontier/Western Hist Romance|
|Review Tags:||Frontier Romance | Frontier/Western Historical Romance | Mail order bride | Reconstruction era | Western romance|