The Independent Bride
The Western sub-genre is one that’s come a long way. Modern-day fans now expect more complex, compelling plots and stronger characters than ever before. An Independent Bride had many of these qualities that made it an interesting, if not riveting, read. This is a well-written tale that displays the author’s unquestionable writing talent. Unfortunately, the dialogue lacked emotional depth and warmth, and the flagging ending was a let down compared to the rest of this promising read.
Set in Colorado 1868, the book features sisters Abby and Moriah Pierce. Their father left them with relatives in the civilized East while he earned their living selling food and supplies in a military outpost in Colorado. They flee a scandal in their old hometown and move to Colorado, hoping to make a go of their recently-deceased father’s prospering business. Only moments after they arrive in Colorado, they are set upon by a band of vicious thugs who, maddened at the sight of such attractive females (in fact the only single females for many, many miles), attempt to kidnap them. Only the thugs’ stupid infighting makes it possible for Abby and Moriah to escape certain rape, aided by the handsome and authoritative Colonel Bryce McGregor.
Despite a compelling attraction between them, Abby and Bryce have baggage from previously unsuccessful relationships that prevents them from seriously considering each other. Bryce, with one turbulent marriage behind him, is a widower who hopes to do well in his present military post in order to be promoted back East where he can find a respectable lady to marry, one who will become a good role model for his outspoken young daughter. Abby is definitely not this lady.
Meanwhile, the store, which has been run by a drunken temporary manager in their absence, has fallen into utter dereliction. They can’t prove that the manager drank their profits, but Abby does the only thing she can and fires him, determined to set up a clean and decent home for herself and her sister. Bryce wants only to set the two on the nearest stage back East, convinced that they will never prosper in the wild West and deeply worried for their safety.
Abby cannot return home. She and Moriah are left with no alternative but to lodge temporarily with Bryce and his daughter. Bryce soon learns that there is more to a wife than “soft, pliable, and willing,” and that interesting conversation and stimulating companionship might also be good qualities. Also, Abby gets on like a house on fire with his challenging, spirited daughter, who is soon pleading for the two to marry.
As I mentioned earlier, there were many admirable facets of this book. The author brings the Colorado territory to life without glossing over the harsh aspects of the time and place. The characterization was excellent, with the humorless and ever-sensible Moriah forming a very effective counterfoil for the feisty Abby, who resonated strongly with me. Abby holds the record as the only western heroine with a spiky personality who doesn’t come off as a shrew with permanent PMS. She holds her own against a particularly determined hero, without having to carp and bitch at him, and I quite enjoyed her reckless spirit of adventure. And though Bryce is dictatorial and high-handed in his treatment of her, given his military career, it is a logical personality for him to have. Also, he is a wonderful father to his only child, and the reader always understands that his protectiveness over Abby is probably due to the fact that he is fighting strong romantic inclinations towards her.
One thing that spoiled my enjoyment of their relationship is that both Bryce and Abby fight their attraction long after they realize that they’re perfect for each other. An even bigger turnoff for me was the flat, anticlimactic ending. Such a well-written book would definitely have achieved a B grade were it not for the stale and predictable way in which their conflict was resolved. Also, I thought that Bryce should have spent more time acting as though he were in love – too much of the time he was Mr. Hardheaded Hero, rationalizing his attraction and all too successfully fending it off. I felt that Abby deserved to be thoroughly wooed, owing to her troubled past, and Bryce doesn’t cut it in the romance stakes.
All in all, An Independent Bride is an anticlimactic read. While I enjoyed the strong heroine and detailed plot, in the end I felt the book was a bit of a letdown in the romance department.