TRR defines a three-heart book as Ďacceptable.í Thatís a fairly accurate description of The Colonelís Daughter. Itís got a terrific heroine, a so-so hero, and a realistic American West setting, but the story never grabbed me. I had no difficulty sticking with till the end, but I also had no difficulty putting it down to do other things - even housework - so Ďacceptableí pretty much describes it.
Suzanne Bonneaux is taking the stage coach to Deadwood to meet with her childhood friend, a native Arapaho Indian. Time is of the essence because soon the tribe will move to another reservation. Suzanneís journey, however, is interrupted when the stage is held up by George ďBig NoseĒ Parrott and his gang. Suzanne and three other passengers find themselves stranded and forced to walk back to the previous way station.
One of the passengers is the notorious shootist Black Jack Sloan. Jack indicates that he wants nothing to do with his fellow passengers, but sparks fly when Suzanne refuses to be cast aside. Suzanneís appearance as a genteel Eastern-educated lady is deceptive. Although she has recently returned from school in Philadelphia, in fact sheís been raised as an Army brat by her stepfather, Colonel Andrew Garrett (the hero of the authorís The Horse Soldier) and is competent with firearms and an accomplished rider.
Black Jack Sloan is determined to reach Deadwood as quickly as possible. Charlie Dawes, for whom heís been searching for many years, is in Deadwood, and itís imperative that he get there before he eludes him again. Suzanne is equally determined that she will ride with Jack and tries to hire him as a guide. He refuses, but Suzanne follows him the next morning along with Matt Butts, a youthful fellow passenger, and eventually Jack is forced to let them join him.
Even though he doesnít want to admit it, Jack is strongly attracted to Suzanne. He knows that as a well-known gunslinger heís a poor risk for romance and marriage, but try as he might to get away from her, he finds Suzanne is not easily discouraged. Soon life is going to get much more complicated - and dangerous - for both of them.
The best feature of this road story is its strong heroine. Suzanne is an antidote for all those weak, poor-little-me, I-need-a-man-to-take-care-of-me heroines. Sheís the take-charge type and feels no compunction about setting and pursuing her own goals. One goal that Suzanne sets is getting Black Jack Sloan to settle down and make a life with her. As determined a woman as Suzanne is, Jack is fighting a losing battle.
One of the on-going jokes in the story is that after the stage coach robbery Suzanne has no money; as she works her way around the Wyoming Territory, she leaves a trail of promissory notes in her wake. Jack is astonished that Suzanne is able to talk so many people into accepting the notes. In a wild, wild west where women are in short supply, there arenít many like Suzanne - simultaneously tough and tender.
Readers will recognize Black Jack Sloan as a more stereotypical character: one of those strong, silent, tall-in-the-saddle, Clint-Eastwood-spaghetti-western heroes. Even though heís given a history to provide character motivation, he never really steps out of the old stereotype and comes alive.
Driven to avenge a family tragedy, Jack walks a narrow line between the law and outlaws. He accepts that his way of life is incompatible with dying in bed of old age. Initially Jack writes off Suzanne as a weakling, but as he comes to know her better, he admires her for her strength and her skills. Too many heroes have fawned all over the sweet, helpless heroine. Itís gratifying to meet a hero who wants a woman who can challenge him on an equal basis. Their romance sometimes seems overpowered by the physical challenges they face, but thereís no doubt that Suzanne and Jack are well matched.
The American West setting is treated more realistically than in many western romances. The rough, primitive conditions that were the norm during this period are not sugar-coated. As Suzanne, Jack, and Matt travel along, they meet an assortment of characters including outlaws, the female owner of a saloon, and a young Chinese girl sold into sexual slavery by her father. Not all of these characters wear white hats. In an authorís note, Ms. Lovelace states that two of the characters are actual historical personages.
Although this is a sequel to The Horse Soldier, it stands well on its own. Suzanneís personal history is briefly recounted so even though the hero and heroine of the earlier book play a small role in this one, those who havenít read the first book wonít feel lost. Readers who enjoy western romances and appreciate strong heroines may want to check out The Colonelís Daughter.