What prompted me to want to read this book though was the fact that I had seen some good reviews of previous books by the author and I liked the idea of a book being set just after the American Civil War. I was prepared to take the chance. And, for the most part, it is a risk that I am glad that I took! There were a few typos, but these days you can get those even in books published by the big name publishers, and I think there was a certain.... something... missing from the writing. Having said that, there were risks that the author took in telling the story that I couldn't necessarily see being allowed by a traditional publisher that made the reader journey a worthwhile one for me.
Reed Jackson is heading to Fenton, Missouri looking for a new start with plans to set up a business as a lawyer in the town. Reed was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. He lost one leg and severely damaged the other leg in the course of the fighting, leaving him wheelchair bound, but it was his other losses that hurt just as much, if not more. Not only did he lose the plantation that was his birthright when his father passed it on to his younger brother, but he also lost his fiancee as part of the same transaction. Reed is a bitter man, lamenting his losses even as he tries to start again, but most definitely not wanting anyone to feel pity towards him.
A big part of the story though, is not just about Reed as a man who has lost so much but also about a man who is a product of his time and upbringing trying to come to terms with the changes in the world. When Reed comes to Fenton, he takes a room in the hotel that is run by his cousin and his wife, which is managed by Beulah Freeman, a freed slave. For Reed, the idea of sitting down at the same table is something that is totally foreign to his previous life, let alone the idea of becoming friends with a former slave. But with the end of the war and the victory of the North, the normal social rules that were once so rigid are collapsing and men like Reed need to learn the new ways if they are to adapt successfully.
You can't have a romance with only one character though and so now we come to Miss Belle Richards. Where Reed is the quintessential, wealthy Southern gentleman, Belle is more of the dirt poor, completely dysfunctional family type girl. Her father and two redneck brothers see her as their servant to order around, to have serve them and to beat if she steps out of line. Belle is, however, determined to escape from their clutches, and she will do whatever she can to facilitate that. Her first step is learning to read. When her brother finds out though, the consequences are severe and Reed's instinct to offer her protection in any way he can leads to an unlikely marriage.
I mentioned earlier about Reed having to come to terms with the new social rules. It is important to note that the author does not shy away from using the kind of language that may have been prevalent at the that time. She also does not back away from the violence and uncertainly that would have followed the war, to the point that there are some scenes in this book that are quite confronting. Holly Bush is not afraid to push her characters into situations where they are in danger. I was a little uncomfortable with one of the situations that Reed found himself in. It did fit with his fierce need to be able to prove that he could not only provide Belle with the kind of life that she could have only imagined as a possibility before, but also to be able to protect her should the need arise but the question of whether it was too far is probably one for each individual reader to decide.
I really enjoyed this story. I liked Holly Bush's voice and I would be happy to read more from her. I do think that there is a certain aspect of the writing that isn't quite there yet for me. The word that I keep coming back to is sophistication but I am not sure that really gets to the heart of the matter. The ideas and the story were good, the writing was quite good, it was just that some of the plot transitions were too direct or something. For example, in the first chapter we are introduced to the woe-is-me depths of Reed as a character. In the next chapter, we are immersed in Belle's terrible world. Whilst that is understandable in terms of establishing character, when there is that abruptness in lots of the scene changes it becomes noticeable. I guess one of the things that I would be looking for in future is some kind of smoother transition from one scene to the next. Don't get me wrong, this is a minor complaint on my part - it won't stop me from reading more from Holly Bush.
I am glad I took a chance on this one!
Thanks to Amy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for my copy of the book.
1867 . . . Southern lawyer and Civil War veteran, Reed Jackson, returns to his family’s plantation in a wheelchair. His father deems him unfit, and deeds the Jackson holdings, including his intended bride, to a younger brother. Angry and bitter, Reed moves west to Fenton, Missouri, home to a cousin with a successful business, intending to start over.
Belle Richards, a dirt poor farm girl aching to learn how to read, cleans, cooks and holds together her family’s meager property. A violent brother and a drunken father plot to marry her off, and gain a new horse in the bargain. But Belle’s got other plans, and risks her life to reach them.
Reed is captivated by Belle from their first meeting, but wheelchair bound, is unable to protect her from violence. Bleak times will challenge Reed and Belle's courage and dreams as they forge a new beginning from the ashes of war and ignorance.