The Colonel's Daughter
The Colonel’s Daughter is set mostly in the Dakota Territory in 1879. It’s a thoughtful book with a lot of attention to detail, and I came thisclose to recommending it. But while I loved the setting and found the characters realistic, I just never felt very attached to the hero and heroine.
Suzanne Bonneaux has spent two years in a Philadelphia finishing school, but when she comes home to Wyoming and finds that her childhood friend is moving to a reservation, she tries to go after her. The stagecoach she is riding on is held up, but Suzanne manages to escape with her life – and almost none of her belongings. During a brief fire fight, she is shielded by Black Jack Sloan, a notorious shootist. They are stranded with a few other passengers in a remote stage outpost, and Suzanne manages to convince Jack to travel with her for just a little while.
Jack has always ridden alone, and he really doesn’t want to bother with Suzanne or Matt, the green kid who follows them both. Ever since his parents were brutally killed by outlaws, Jack has been tailing the men who did it and killing them one by one. At last he has a hot lead on the last remaining outlaw, and the last thing he needs to worry about is the stubborn and distracting Suzanne. But somehow he finds himself staying with her “just one more day,” and another day after that. Meanwhile they meet up with a colorful cigar-smoking madam and her Chinese slave/employee who catches Matt’s eye. Jack finds his tough exterior cracking as he contemplates giving up his life on the run for a settled home with Suzanne. But danger still awaits them both. The outlaws who held up the stage are out to get them, and Jack’s nemesis is still out there. They’ll have to face these dangers and a great tragedy before they can claim their happiness.
The book’s setting is a plus. Suzanne is actually the step-daughter of a Colonel, and frontier military life is depicted in a realistic and interesting way. There are also some well done scenes in the hurdy-gurdy house/makeshift stage post. Lovelace paints such a thorough picture of madam Mother Featherlegs (who was in fact a real person) that the reader can almost smell the cigar smoke and cloying lavender perfume. We also meet Ying Li at Mother Featherlegs’ establishment, and she very nearly steals the book. Her fatalistic attitude somehow strikes just the right note.
I had no major problem with either of the main characters. Both are matter of fact about their feelings for each other, and even Jack doesn’t rely on the all too common “I’m just a drifter” excuse to get out of the relationship. Since he’s spent years of his life exacting revenge, he obviously has demons that haunt him, but the reader doesn’t really hear much about them. It’s kind of a double edged sword; we don’t have to hear endless thoughts of self-pity, but we also don’t get to know who Jack really is.
Suzanne was a little more accessible, as we hear about her early family life, her real father, and the man who raised her. She did have the annoying habit of shouting “Hooah,” which had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (a movie I loathe with an abiding passion). Still, I liked her. She was gutsy without coming across as spunky and stupid – a characterization feat not every author can pull off.
Sometimes it’s hard to pin down just why a book misses the mark. This one had a lot going for it, yet I still found it easy to put down. The characters are likable, but not engaging. They were sometimes in danger, but somehow I never even worried for them. So while I applaud Miss Lovelace for the wonderful western setting, I can’t quite give this book a firm recommendation. It’s a cut above the average western, but I’m not sure it’s worth going out of the way to read it.