Foxfire Bride
by Maggie Osborne, historical (2004)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1992-9

It can be argued that everything in a book is a contrivance on the author's part. She sets up her scenes, she gets her characters to act in a way she thinks that will move the story, that sort of thing. Nothing really happens naturally in a story. But the thing is, the author needs to convince the reader that the events in her stories are happening spontaneously in a reasonable manner without resorting to obvious contrivances like amazing coincidences that keep cropping up. Since nowhere in this book am I led to believe that "too many amazing coincidences" is supposed to some in-joke that I should appreciate, I can't help feeling that I'm reading a poorly-planned, half-baked book.

Let's just call the heroine Fox because me revealing her last name will spoil at least three of the "amazing plot twists" that the author has in store for the reader. She is a tough woman of the frontiers. Yes, Fox is really tough and convincing as a woman living at the frontiers and used to hard, physical work. I've seen some readers recoil from Fox because she isn't feminine enough in their definition, but come on, people! What do you expect from a woman who has been living on her wits since her mother died? A Southern schoolmarm? Anyway, Fox and her Black companion Peaches (in the obligatory Sage Minority Character role) are doing their thing, cutting ice to sell in town, when Fox thinks that it's time she go down to Denver and kill that man who married her mother and then absconded with her money, leaving Ma and Fox all alone in the Rockies wilderness. And then, out of the blue comes fancy city-boy Matthew Tanner asking to hire a "man" named Fox to guide him and his entourage of two shifty gunmen through the mountains to get to Denver in the quickest way possible. He is carrying money to pay off a ransom.

The back blurb reveals something that the author drops in the story after she has identified the kidnapped person. By then, the reader will have pieced together a wonderful turn of coincidental event that... well, let's just say that I am only glad that Matt and Fox don't have to worry so much about having children covered with warts and looking like trolls. How nice that Fox is thinking of going to Denver just as a man shows up asking her to take him to Denver so that he can ransom the man that... you get the idea, I'm sure. There are just too many coincidences in this story to make it work.

Still, Fox starts out as a great character, although the author overdoes the "wounded little girl" aspect of Fox. But as the story progresses, typical of too many of her books, Ms Osborne starts dipping into trite characterization and oversimplication of the issues she has introduced into the story. Fox turns into a completely tedious character, constantly worrying about her unfeminine personality while insisting that all she wants from Matt is an affair. Of course. Matt has the potential to become a complex character but the author drops the ball when she resolves the big conflict standing in the way between Fox and Matt's happy ending in a flippant sitcom-like manner that is completely at odds with the tone of the book until that point. I like that Matt comes to appreciate this unconventional, tough side of Fox as her strengths, but I wish he'd let Fox know of this. Fox's constant insecurities about her self-worth get tedious after a while. The flippant resolution makes Matt come off like a spineless Daddy's boy, but since he ends up sacrificing nothing yet getting the woman he loves while Fox has to lose everything in order to be with the man she loves, I can't say I fault him for being what he is. He wins in the end, after all!

Oh, and in a priceless "Only in a Western romance" scene, the author has Peaches, a Black man, defending the South's right to secede to a Yankee gunman. Peaches, a free man who has never been a slave (the South is so misunderstood!), tells the Yankee guy that everyone should have the right to do what they want in their lives. Ah, but how does that apply to the slaves? I laugh so hard at that scene because it is such a classic "Can you believe this?" moment, I tell you. Ms Osborne has the Yank say his share of why the Yanks have to do what they have to do, but when I take into account the kind of person this Yank turns out to be as opposed to the abrasive South-symphatizing guy who turns out to be a misunderstood good guy, it's quite clear where the author's leanings lie towards. I just wish that she has given a more convincing argument than one involving a Black guy defending the Southern plantation owners' right to do what they want to do.

On the whole, Foxfire Bride starts out very interesting because the heroine seems like a genuine frontier wildcat and the hero makes a good foil to her personality. But the coincidences keep piling up. The simplistic resolutions to genuinely complicated emotional problems the main characters face excerbate the gulf of disconnect between me and the story. All in all, Foxfire Bride a disappointing book that fails to deliver what it promises early on.

Rating: 70

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