The Pretender
Grade : A-

I keep meaning to pay a visit to the Buried Treasures page and submit Rosalyn West’s name, because I love her books, but I never hear anyone talking about them but me. Consider this review my annual appeal on her behalf – if you like American Historicals with complex characters and incredible conflicts, please give her a try!

The Pretender is the latest installment in West’s Men of Pride County series, and it’s one of the best so far. The hero is Deacon Sinclair, brother of Patrice Sinclair Garrett, who is the heroine of The Outcast. In the books previous to this one, Deacon suffered numerous financial setbacks, and in this book he hits rock bottom. His lender sells the mortgage to his plantation, and when he opens the door to admit the new owner, he sees the last person he expects to see – Garnet Davis. Garnet offers him a humiliating bargain: if he works for her, he can earn his birthright back a little at a time.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Garnet and Deacon shared a few days together in her farm house. He arrived wounded, but with a mission to discover some crucial information. Garnet’s father holds an important position in the Union Army, and Deacon is one of the Confederacy’s best spies. Although Deacon and Garnet are only together a short time, he soon finds himself questioning his beliefs and his integrity. By the end of his stay he’s sure that he wants to forget all about his duty to country and family, and run away with Garnet. However, a tragic turn of events has him betraying Garnet, and when he goes back to find her, all he finds is a smoking farmhouse. Garnet is nowhere to be seen.

When Garnet buys Deacon’s mortgage five years later, she tells him that revenge is her only motive. The truth is that she’s still in love with him and wants to give him another chance. He’ll have to prove himself first, and it won’t be easy. Garnet brings her “husband” Monty and her son William with her, but Monty is actually her uncle and William is really Deacon’s child. Garnet wants to give her son a chance to know his father and his heritage, but until she decides what’s best for William, she wants to keep his parentage a secret.

Deacon’s new role as Garnet’s employee is hard for both of them. He chafes under her rule, and she secretly hates what she is doing. Both of them are really still in love with the other, but Garnet isn’t sure she can ever forgive Deacon for his betrayal, and he isn’t really sure he can forgive himself. He’s also not too happy about her ownership of his property, and he’s very concerned about some of the people with whom she’s doing business. Added to these difficulties are several secondary characters with agendas of their own who don’t want to see Garnet and Deacon together.

I’m a sucker for a really good conflict, and this one definitely fits the bill. So many books feature conflicts that are very easily resolved, or would be if the hero and heroine could just talk to each other for five minutes. Often the reader can tell just exactly how the conflict will be resolved and when the resolution is coming. The Pretender is one of those rare books with a conflict that seems insurmountable. You know the hero and heroine love each other and that they will be together by the end of the book, but there’s no way to discern how the author will work her magic. When they finally do overcome all the obstacles to their happiness, the resolution is all the sweeter.

Part of the reason the conflict works so well is that Garnet and Deacon are both well-drawn characters, and they both have realistic moral dilemmas. When Deacon betrays Garnet early in the book, it isn’t something he does lightly or forgets easily; it’s a matter of conflicting loyalties which he must resolve. Garnet’s problem is less abstract than Deacon’s “my lover or my family and country” questions, but it is just as believable. She knows that she’s still in love with Deacon, but she isn’t sure who he really is or whether she should tell him about their child. She wants to be able to trust him, but isn’t sure how she can after his betrayal.

In the background here are many important secondary characters, and to be honest, it really helps if you’ve read the other books. Technically, The Pretender can stand alone, but the secondary characters would be more meaningful to those who understand everything that has gone on in past books. My favorite secondary character is Tyler Fairfax, the sometimes villain/sometimes hero who is involved in nearly everything that goes on in Pride County. If ever a villain is crying out to be the hero of his own book, Tyler is it. The back cover blurb says that West is continuing to work on the series, so I’ll continue to hope that the next book will be Tyler’s.

The only flaw I found in this book was that portions of the ending seemed a bit rushed. After the emotional roller-coaster of a conflict, I would have liked a little more time to savor the happy end. Other than that, The Pretender was a near-perfect read. I recommend it to any reader who would like to sink her teeth into a good conflict and interesting characters. And if you do like this book as much as I did, you might want to try The Outsider which has many of the same strengths as this novel

Reviewed by Blythe Smith

Grade: A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 22, 1999

Publication Date: 1999

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Blythe Smith

I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
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