The Third Daughter
I’d never read an historical romance set in Canada before, so I was looking forward to reading The Third Daughter. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be a real mixed bag for me. Fox paired a likable hero who had an interesting job with a thick-skulled, overly tomboyish heroine, and those two did not strike sparks.
Constable Steven Gravel is a Canadian Mountie who takes his work very seriously. It’s all he has, after all. A few years ago his wife died in childbirth along with his infant son, and Steven has submersed himself in his job to distract himself from his grief. One day he is off scouting the area around Ft. McLeod and he comes across a cattle ranch.
Cletis Dawson owns this cattle ranch, and when Steven approaches him about buying some of his herd for Ft. McLeod, the man is doubly happy. Of course Cletus wants to sell some cattle, but he also has three daughters, and in Alberta Territory available bachelors are scarce. Cletis initially intends to match up his second daughter, Emily, with Steven, but it is clear right away that Steven isn’t interested in Emily. He only has eyes for the eldest daughter, Willow.
Willow, however, isn’t interested in marriage. Her ambition is to own her own ranch and start breeding a new line of cattle. She doesn’t want to be someone’s wife because she’s scared to death of all the complications that come with marriage, most especially childbirth. Her mother died in agony after a long delivery and Willow witnessed it all, so she’s decided to avoid men altogether. But Willow does find Steven rather fascinating. Will he be able to get her to change her mind about marriage?
The good parts about this book mostly involve Steven. He is a good hero, a kind person, a moral man with plenty of integrity. He even has an interesting side vocation – he used to be a clown. Steven seems to want nothing more than to establish his place in the world and start a family. But kind, decent and nice Steven is ill matched with Willow.
Willow is not unlikable; rather she can be difficult to relate to because of her tomboyish ways. She struts about in long underwear and pants and behaves as if she were a boy throughout most of the book. She herds cattle, she swears, and she refuses to pin her hair up. In some ways she reminded me of the heroine in The Promise of Jenny Jones – only not as well drawn. Willow would seem to be a poor choice for a hero who values domesticity. She also takes an inordinately long time to absorb what everyone (and I do mean everyone) is telling her: being a wife and mother can be just as rewarding as having a job.
The book is curiously contemporary in some ways. Willow did exactly what she pleased, and there seemed to be no obstacles to her plans to start her own ranch. How she thinks she will do this alone, I have no idea. And why she would want to live by herself in another cabin when her father’s house is luxurious and where she could share the daily tasks with her sister if she lived there is never explained.
Which brings up another point. The day-to-day drudgery of living in the unsettled West is almost completely ignored here. Willow’s family lives in a well-built house with all the amenities, and they have a number of comforts including tasty, hot meals and new clothes. Yet the only one shown doing the household chores is Willow’s sister Emily. Willow, of course, won’t do women’s work, and her sister Libby is content to read and make mischief. In reality, the business of survival claimed almost all of a woman’s time, and if there were other females in the house, they were expected to pull their weight. Since I couldn’t see how Emily could manage all of the work by herself, it seemed like all the chores were magically done.
The Third Daughter was something of a disappointment. Readers who enjoy very tomboyish heroines might find something to like here, but personally, I wish the nice hero had been paired off with someone else.