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New Faces 5:
An interview with Judith Stanton

 
Wild Indigo by Judith Stanton
(Harper, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-108707-6
****
Judith Stanton makes an impressive debut in her new historical romance, Wild Indigo. For readers who like a marriage-of-convenience story, and those who enjoy a strong dash of history woven into the plot, this book a sure thing.

It's 1780, and the Revolutionary War is at its peak. The tiny village of Salem, North Carolina, is caught in the middle of the struggle between Tories and Continentals. Being that the community is Moravian, and pledged to neutrality, the inhabitants are under suspicion from both sides. And no man is more suspect than English-speaking elder Jacob Blum. If anyone has the means to be a spy, it's Jacob.

Jacob isn't the least interested in spying on anyone. He's too busy trying to get the elders of the village to agree to let him court one of the single ladies in town. Jacob desperately needs a wife and mother for his three troubled children, and so far every attempt to "cast the lot" and ask for God's assent has come up with a firm "nein". He's reached the bottom of the barrel, female-wise, when he runs into a young woman carrying laundry and his memory is jogged. What about Retha? He never thought of Retha.

Retha, or Sister Mary Margaretha to the townspeople, was adopted into the Moravian community years back after having been found wandering the woods alone in a deerskin outfit. A white girl, struggling with the death of her parents and then the Cherokee tribe who adopted her, Retha has adapted to Moravian life. For the most part. Jacob decides that this free-spirited, lovely girl may be the perfect match for him. To his delight, this time the lot says "ja".

Retha dreams of a home and a family to love her, so it isn't hard for her to accept Jacob's proposal. Something in her background, however, makes her fear intimacy. Jacob can't understand why she pulls away in terror. Neither can Retha. What follows is a tender story of two people making their way toward each other and trying to leave their pasts behind.

Jacob and Retha are both very solid characterizations. Retha is unsure but determined, and has a good deal of common sense. Jacob is amorous but patient. This is a rock-solid hero, one to stand by Retha's side and be a true support. His insecurity when it comes to Retha's fear makes him three-dimensional. And the pacing is kept brisk, with only a hit of drag through the middle.

The historical background offered by Ms. Stanton is nearly as good as the romance. Here the little-known Moravian community comes to life. Every detail, from the casting of the lot to the descriptions of the clothing and the living quarters, felt right and was slotted neatly into place. The sub-plots involving the soldiers were well-drawn. There are heroes and villains on both sides.

The author did something that I felt was very smart. There is a wild wolf in the story, one that has been injured and is being nursed back to health by Retha. The wolf is kept in the background where it belongs, not made into a cute pet, not taking over scenes. It serves a function, true, but the function is strictly supporting cast and not would-be lead. Good show.

And finally, I have to give kudos to Harper's cover art department. The cover of Wild Indigo is beautiful, totally in keeping with the story. One of the best I've seen all year. Romance needs more like it.

Historical romance lovers, Judith Stanton is a strong new voice. Don't miss this unusual and captivating story. And if you like Wild Indigo as much as I think you will, be on the lookout for the sequel next year.

--Cathy Sova


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