In 1873, Courtney Danning defied her wealthy father's wishes and traveled alone from New York to Santa Fe to marry the man she thinks she loves. Widowed on her wedding day, Courtney realizes that her husband wasn't the only man awaiting her arrival. A mysterious stranger keeps turning up just in time to save her from many threats and unfortunate circumstances. She did not know that her father hired him to watch over her. The ex-gunfighter Beau Hamilton has no idea that it isn't possible to guard her and not fall in love. With a range war about to begin, Beau and Courtney have no choice but to risk all personally as they fight together to overcome grave dangers.
Our hero is a "miscreant Anglo" whose savageness is transformed by our heroine's pure heart, blond hair "like an angel," and determined spirit. Be warned about the use of sexual violence as titillation, which for this reviewer chilled the romantic possibilities. In two scenes she is about to be raped and he rescues her. In a third scene, he forces himself on her and impregnates her but for him, the next day, it is all a hazy memory. She regrets that her first time with a man was not romantic but focuses on how wonderfully responsive her body was to his. Her feelings, positive or negative, during the act of violence or afterward do not reverse the lack of consent in the first place. And Courtney is not a weak person either. She accomplishes as much as she does because she is in so many ways her father's daughter. So, given that Beau was forcing his way through the front door, why couldn't she have run out the back door? Also, the man's reactions once he fully realizes how horrible his behavior toward her has been are unrealistically mild. Her character killed other men for treating Courtney in the same deplorable way. Beau and Courtney are so strongly drawn to each other, the author tells us, that no matter the danger that threatens them they are of a mind to lust after each other. His rough, raw manliness, Courtney tells herself, brings out her womanly desires---his persistent manhandling of her notwithstanding. Sexual violence and rough treatment are presented as sensuality.
Working with cultural characteristics can be a sensitive issue; Rebel Heart is consistent in its cultural stereotyping of Mexicans. Add to that the racial stereotyping of native Americans as noble savage: "Cloud (who helped to save the ranch) returned to his stoic mien" and "As the Indian moved away, his gait graceful and predatory, . . . ." There were no other representations of what it meant to be "Indian." And, surely, Cloud's behavior reflected the values of a particular people and culture. Which one?
The novel has strongly drawn characters, good plot complications, and turning points that are deftly handled. These strengths might have been used to portray women as the heroines and lovers they really were in the 1800s. There is much literature, fiction from the period and biographical that might have been relied upon.
Rebel Heart uses a classic conflict of good guys beating out the bad guys and Goodness taming the Beast Within. What makes this classic premise work is instilling the characteristics of a hero even before the Hero's transformation---Beau would do anything to protect Courtney even before he understood his heart's reaction to her. But if our Hero takes any action that goes too far, that sticks in our minds as unforgivable (sexual coercion, sexual violence) then it is a difficult, dusty road for us, readers, to travel if we are to witness the emerging of a purely Good Guy.
Special Notes: The Lily and the Falcon due out December 2007.
Can a woman from New York society fall in love with an ex-gunfighter? Beau Hamilton didn't think so...until he hires on to protect Courtney Danning after she travels to Santa Fe to marry the man she loves. When her philandering husband gets himself killed on their wedding night, Beau fears the one thing he thought he controlled--losing his heart to a woman.