The Horse Soldier
by Merline Lovelace, historical (2001)
MIRA, $5.99, ISBN 1-55166-784-3

As an antidote to too many silly light outlaw-boinks-the-schoolmarm Western romances, Merline Lovelace's The Horse Soldier offers an almost epic-like tale of romance amidst brewing Indian uprisings (just when the debris of the Civil War is starting to settle down). Gunfire, epic confrontations, heroism, heck, there's even a Southern belle heroine (with a touch of French) to sate a reader's craving for Gone With The Wind-like tales.

And it's a jolly good one.

Six years before when Civil War was still in full force, Major Andrew Garrett and Julia Bonneaux married only to realize, oops, he's a spy for the Scums Up North. The slight glitch resulted in lots of gunfire wastage and she thinking he dead. Now, she's traveling across Wyoming with her daughter to find her (second) husband Phillip. Alas, circumstances happen and she and her daughter Suzanne end up holed in Fort Wyoming under the watchful eyes of - surprise, Andrew.

Both individuals aren't who they were six years back, but one thing's for sure - the fire's still there. Along the way to second chances, there's cholera epidermics, rapists, the usual wrongheaded superior, Indian tensions and diplomatic missions... it must be tough juggling romance with so many incidents, but Ms Lovelace acquits herself very well. I am hooked.

But towards the end, the level of, er, incidents is cranked up. Things happen and happen and happen to a point that the violence and pain seem gratuitous. The author doesn't hesitate to portray the harsh life at the frontiers (those looking for sanitized Westerns where people are always clean and the wind blows gently can go somewhere else - Cassie Edwards, perhaps?), but the accelerated drama at the end seems too much.

No matter. The Horse Soldier is a solid and powerful romance-cum-adventure tale. For a few hours I am utterly absorbed in this very engaging story. Solid storytelling - that's what a good book is all about, right?

Rating: 87

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