2008, Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1860s Wyoming)
Berkley, $7.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425224198
Part of a series
A couple of times a year, I read a book that so epitomizes a certain adjective that it could be reviewed in a single word. Promises Reveal is one of those books, and the mot juste is "convoluted". I will, of course, extend the review beyond my single word and explain why.
I'll start by saying that I was completely hood-winked by the back cover of this book, which touts Promises Reveal as a story about a woman who paints a naked picture of the town's preacher and is consequently forced to marry him. This sounded hilarious to me (in a good way), so I opened the book hoping for a funny Western Romance. My disappointment started almost immediately when I discovered that the funny part - the part where she paints the picture and is forced to marry the Reverend - had already happened in a previous book. The book actually opens with a wedding scene that took forever, as seemingly every townsperson in Cattle Crossing made an appearance. I was apparently supposed to know who they all were already, because I was supposed to have read the umpteen others books in this series. Evidently, I was supposed to be so overjoyed to see Cougar and Mara and Asa and a bunch of people with the last name of McKinley, so overjoyed that I didn't care that the plot was going nowhere fast, and the interesting parts had already happened.
After Evie and Brad get married, they go to a house that used to belong to Elijah and Amy (I was supposed to know who they were too), where Brad and Evie have what is supposed to be hot sex. In actuality, the scene lasts forever and includes frequent interruptions where Brad and Evie converse. The interruptions lasted so long that I frequently forgot they were having sex in the first place. This single day, which includes the marriage and subsequent deflowering, lasts a full quarter of the book. After that point, the book kicks into gear a little more. The crux of the plot (to the extent that there is one) is that Brad isn't really a preacher, but is a former outlaw. He is sure he will have to ditch Evie eventually, so he doesn't want to get too attached to her. Evie has doubts about marriage and doesn't want to be beholden to a man. She really wants to pursue her artistic talents. Matters come to a head when Brad's past predictably catches up with him. His life is in danger, and there is an inevitable scene where all the secondary characters have a show-down with the bad guy. And then they live happily ever after.
While the convoluted plot, poor pacing, and overabundant secondary characters were probably the primary weaknesses of the book, they were not the only ones. The book is rife with anachronisms, and the history is definitely of the wallpaper variety. Sometimes I think more erotic romances get a bit of a free pass with historical accuracy, as if readers are so into the sex that they won't care that brownies didn't exist in the 19th century. But if you're not into the book, these are the kinds of things you notice.
I also had trouble warming up to Evie and Brad. Brad is demanding, and orders Evie around a lot. Sometimes it works; the scene where he quickly seduces Evie in his church is actually pretty sexy and fun. But sometimes he really crosses the line. Phrases like "Don't say 'no' to me" conjure up exactly the old-time sexist mores I'd just as soon live without. I also could not imagine how he managed to pretend to be a reverend for five minutes, let alone five months. Periodically, Evie is surprised by Brad's un-reverend-like behavior, but I don't really know why she was surprised; he virtually never acts like a reverend in the first place. At least, not in this book.
Sarah McCarty got her start at Ellora's Cave, who published the earlier Promises books. Maybe they are all better than this one, and maybe the people who have read them all are clamoring for news about Cougar and Mara and Asa and Jenna and the entire town of Cattle Crossing. If you haven't read and loved the other books, I can think of no reason to read this one. Yes, it's convoluted - and that's just the beginning.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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