Mills & Boon, £0.65, ISBN 0-263-73300-9
Contemporary Romance, 1980
The theme for the TBR Challenge is “Kicking It Old School”, which means reviewing a book that is at least 10 years old. Well, how nice, I have a box of old Mills & Boon stuff with plenty left unread. Of course, dipping my fingers into that box is like sticking my hands into piranha-infested waters hoping that I would somehow manage to fish out a nude selfie of Mark Ruffalo, but those are things that I do out of love sometimes.
Published first in 1980, Lord of the High Lonesome – which gets my vote as one of the best titles for a romance novel ever – sees our heroine Kit Bonner running the Flying Eagle ranch in a corner of North Dakota on her father’s behalf – that man is getting on with the years, after all. She is resentful of the fact that the real owner of the ranch – the Earl of Danbury, to whom Kit is distantly related – prefers to stay in England and enjoy the profits while she and her father toil away. She has other reasons to be a brat, but those reasons are part of the big secret that would be revealed at a dramatic moment, so I won’t go into that. When the old owner dies and the new owner, Reese Talbot shows up, Kit is torn between wanting to hate him or to swoon like a china doll in his presence. Reese is an American, and being a manly man, abandons his title to come down to America to cavort with the cows and what not. How patriotic!
While romance novels published in the dark old days can be problematic in that the heroes tend to be of the “rape first, call her a whore later” variety, this one came out in 1980, so it’s not that icky. Reese has his alpha mule moments, but he doesn’t appear to be deliberately cruel or stupid to me. That’s a good thing. The problem lies with the heroine.
Now, back in the old days, heroines tend to be high-strung and hysterical, often screaming and screeching at everything. I can understand why some authors do that – when those heroes proceed to slap those heroines in a show of romantic take-charge masculinity, readers would cheer and high-five one another. Here, however, there is no rapist hero throwing out slaps for free. As a result, there is only a hysterical heroine running around screaming and shouting at everyone and everything, when she is not throwing things and screeching that everyone hates her and she can’t take it anymore. I’m not joking – the hero and various secondary characters often tell her that she needs to get a grip on herself.
Kit is always angry, bitter, and resentful, to the point that she seems like she is in need of sedatives rather than true love. When she first meets the hero, she orders him to scram without ado, and even when she realizes who he really is, acts like a complete brat around him. The fact that he could very well sack her doesn’t cross her mind. She’s angry, so she will throw things. scream, and generally act like a 3-year old denied her toy. The author tries to use Kit’s secret to justify her antics, but Kit wears me down long before that thing comes out, and by that point, I only want to see something put her down for her own sake. She claims that the workers at the ranch hate her because she’s a woman, and while I believe that can be true, I’d wager that they can’t stand her because she orders them around like they are her dogs, snarling and scolding them without bothering to even let them speak.
The author is aware of this – in fact, the hero himself delivers a well-deserved cruel smack down on the heroine during the penultimate moment that has me cheering him on. While he isn’t that much of a prize, she treats him like dirt from the very minute they meet, and I actually marvel at how long he managed to stand being around her up to that point. Even then, the heroine’s reaction is still too much of a “Me, me, me!” type for me to believe that she has grown up and is mature enough to handle a relationship, especially a long-term one.
Lord of the High Lonesome has an utterly high-strung heroine who is too over the top abrasive and immature for me to take seriously. Kit makes this story painful to read. Maybe if the author had made her a little bit human, I may feel more sympathetic towards the heroine, but in the end, I’d probably be more happy with the story if Kit ended up in a mental asylum. A long stay would do her nerves a lot of good.