I like a good Western and I enjoy discovering good, new-to-me authors, so I thought I'd give Lady Gone Bad a try. From the plot and the back cover blurb, one gets the impression that it's supposed to be an action-packed road romance. Reality falls short somewhat, though, as vague plotting and haphazard characterizations drag this story down.
U.S. Marshal Rafe Morgan ends up in a rundown Texas saloon as he hunts for the infamous Lady Gone Bad. Lady is apparently a saloon singer and outlaw of some sort. Rafe intends to execute the warrant for her arrest, and take her in for trial and probable hanging. He spots Lady in the saloon, but his attempt to capture her goes awry as she recognizes him for a lawman and points him out to the other patrons. Given the roughness of the place, a lynch mob soon forms. The escaping Lady is horrified to see that Rafe is about to be killed (um, what did you think was going to happen, Lady?) and so she rides in to rescue him.
Rafe and Lady flee the lynch mob, and though injured in the chase, find their way to Lady's hideout. The two spend an uneasy night fighting exhaustion as well as mutual attraction and then in the morning, Rafe arrests Lady and prepares to turn her in. This plan changes abruptly when the two discover that not only is Lady wanted, but now Rafe is wanted,too. The two go on the run, trying simultaneously to elude capture and clear their names, and that's when the romance really heats up.
The story definitely contains a lot of action, but much of it is lost in sloppy details and overwriting. For instance, we know from the beginning that Rafe is a Marshal who wants to arrest Lady. However, the author doesn't seem to think readers would care to know why Lady has a warrant hanging over her or what heinous crime she is accused of committing. We get a little more explanation for the backstabbing plot that led to Rafe becoming a wanted man, but there are still more than a few loose ends left dangling there. And the overwriting? Well, much of the story (particularly the romantic side of it) gets told in overly dramatic fashion, with snicker-inducing lines like these,
"Rafe was a stud, a prize stallion worthy of the name.
And she'd just gone into heat."
In addition to this, we also learn that Lady comes from a family of horse traders and that her father truly loved horses. And, since she's of Irish descent, we're supposed to accept as natural that Lady has a special oneness with the horses, and readers will frequently stumble across mentions of the horse goddess Epona guiding the heroine. I'm not quite sure what the warning cry of Epona sounds like, but I was awfully tired of hearing about it by the end of the book. It just seemed a little ridiculous. Ridiculous, too, was the heroine's name. It seems that all over the West, folks just called this woman by the name Lady Gone Bad. Even after the hero learns her real name fairly early on in the story, she still insists he call her Lady or Lady Gone Bad.
While the characters and their romance frustrated me, something about the cheesy sidekicks, eeeevil doublecrossing villains, and overblown action in this story managed to be fun from time to time. The story kept moving at a fast clip and while it lacks subtlety, a story like this really doesn't need it. In some ways, Lady Gone Bad reminds me of the novel equivalent of some of the less notable action movies - light on characterization and plot depth but with plenty of chases and action scenes to make everything fun even if somewhat forgettable.
If you can get through the frequently eyeroll-inducing opening chapters, the action does pick up quite a bit in the latter half of the book. It's still way overwritten, and Epona never does knock it off entirely, but it's not completely terrible. However, I would still call it below the average, and I just can't recommend it.
-- Lynn Spencer
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