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Western Historical Romances

Let’s now take a look at some romance covers to compare and contrast them with what has been occurring in other art forms with this mythical man.

Katie Rose’s A Case For Romance presents an immediate contrast to the above covers. You can instantly see the shift in emphasis. Thomas, the hero, is not wearing a gun. This is a huge change from other covers where the gun was the all-important accessory. Thomas is extremely good-looking; his garb is not jeans and chaps, but rather, the “dress up” clothes of his day. His attention is entirely focused upon the woman, not the frontier. He has his back to the frontier instead of facing off against it, one on one, as we’ve seen him portrayed in other covers. There’s even a whimsical touch with Emily’s cat peeking out of her bag. Notice the details on her hat too. This is something that would especially draw a woman’s eye to this cover. It did mine. Look at the beautiful rose lighting over everything too which gives Thomas’s and Emily’s skins a warm glow which is repeated in the ground, sky and her hat. We’re literally seeing the West through rose-colored glasses, a softer West.size=4>

In Rose’s novel, Thomas is a former Wells Fargo man who poses as a preacher in an attempt to clear himself from a robbery involving Emily’s murdered father. This is a light romantic comedy which has a ghost who is a woman who worked in the bordello Emily inherits. Emily even uses the sleuthing methods of Sherlock Holmes to comedic effect. AAR Reviewer Blythe Barnhill, who has studied western history extensively, found many inaccuracies about the West when she read this novel. I responded that short of an automobile’s being parked in front of the saloon instead of a horse, I wouldn’t, and didn’t, notice. The western, as it exists for me, is almost entirely fueled by my expectations from the way the arts have imagined it as opposed to any historical reality. Although I’ve visited the West, I’ve lived my whole life in Ohio and so reality has never intruded upon my western fantasies. Blythe, of course, lives in the West.

Rose’s cover was done by prominent romance illustrator/artist Franco Accornero. Notice that when the artist is well known, his or her copyright for the artwork often appears on the copyright page under the author’s copyright notice.

Quite a few romance readers, who need more historical accuracy than I but less than Blythe, enjoy Elizabeth Grayson’s western romance novels. Grayson lives in the West as well. Her most recent romance is Color Of The Wind. I was curious about what a more accurate western would read like and so recently bought this book.

The cover on this romance is also quite good. The dominant color used is white – very unusual for romance novel covers, which made it stand out against all the other, more colorful romances on the shelves. Artists realize the almost universal appeal of white when used in design. The front white is a curtain which has been embroidered with delicate violet stitches along the edge. This curtain is pulled back just enough to show the attractive couple, Baird and Ardith. The cover fits with the title nicely too since wind has no color. We envision its blowing through and making things cleaner, whiter. Notice that the curtain has moved as if stirred by the wind. Ardith and Baird are wearing what appear to be authentic clothing, and aren’t falling out of them, helping create a mood for the period. There is a sunset behind them in orange and yellow which is a perfect accent to so much white in the design and is complemented by the violet embroidery. Baird is holding and completely focused on Ardith but it is not a clinch position. This sunset-lit vignette of them appears on the front, spine and back of the book. There is an art copyright appearing under the author’s copyright but it shows only the initials of “tk.”size=4>

I really liked this book. Both Ardith and Baird are quite imperfect as the story begins, allowing for very full character development. I also liked the idea of the English aristocracy exiling unwanted relatives to the American West. The hero arrives expecting England to be set up in Wyoming the way it was set up in India and Africa. He’d traveled to those other countries with the English geographical society. He quickly discovers, however, that the West answers to no foreign country. Baird jilted Ardith sixteen years previously in favor of her sister. She brings him his three children when her sister dies. Baird is 39 and Ardith is about 35, which is a nice change. I enjoyed Grayson’s details of western life, such as breaking mustangs for riding, branding cattle at roundup, camping in the high meadows with the cattle, and sketching and painting the great outdoors.

My favorite western romance is Megan McKinney’s Fair is The Rose. This novel presented every fantasy element in a western romance that I could want. The heroine, Christal, is on the run in the West. Her Eastern guardian had her placed in a mental asylum for murdering her parents and she escaped. Christal and others are abducted by a band of outlaws who are planning a train robbery. One of the most fearsome outlaws is Cain, who ends up protecting her from the others. However, when the federal marshals thwart the robbery, it comes out that Cain is actually a Marshall himself! Christal is now terrified of him because the law is after her as well. Cain is a great hero and a lot more unfolds after this point but I think you can see the dramatic implications of such a storyline. This is the stuff romance is made of, right?

I found this book by the cover. I had never heard of Meagan McKinney before and was just going through the covers on the “M’s” on the romance bookshelf since I had done well with some other “M’s.” Illogical, yes, but it’s worked for me.

The purple tone and the rose-patterned fabric on the cover immediately appealed to me, as did the wonderful still-life image inset on the spine and on the front cover. This still-life has a woman’s cowboy boots, a framed sepia tone picture of a woman, a few loose roses, a strand of pearls and a lace glove. Romance covers show textiles frequently because they are best known as a woman’s art medium. Replacing a gun with these items on the front cover is a very telling sign of the contents of the book. We know that the accent will not be on one shootout after another right up front.size=4> The stepback shows Christal and Cain seated in the coach alone together. The artist has a bandana around Cain’s neck, hiding the ugly rope burn he received after an attempt to hang him failed. Christal is gowned in her widow’s weeds disguise, exactly as depicted in the novel. They are seated together with him almost crowding her, which he does in every sense of the word in the novel. If you look Cain carefully over, there is a gun in a holster on his hip. However, it is a minuscule part of the image, just enough to make him believable as outlaw and Marshall. There is only an artist’s credit given for the stepback via the name “York” written on it.size=4>

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