Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Where the River once Flowed

Where the River Once Flowed (Whitney finalist, historical)

I really wanted to love this book, because I don't think enough historical historical about the American West delve into the rich Hispanic culture that flourished there in the 18th and 19th centuries. And to her credit, Hansen's story does nod to the complicated (and often unfair) politics that affected the region when American settlers flooded west and began claiming lands, often indifferent to the pre-existing claims of the dons and their haciendas. Don Sebastian has only one granddaughter, Iliana, to inherit his extensive lands, and he worries that she will not be strong enough to maintain the ranch against the greedy Purdy family who have already taken over her mother's neighboring family ranch. So he arranges a marriage for her with a kind American, Ross Adams, on the condition that the land be held in trust for her sons.

All seems well enough for a few years, though Iliana's son Gabe is small and weak. But then Ben Purdy take over the ranch after his father's death in a winter blizzard, and his tactics to acquire the ranch become aggressive. When Iliana's husband dies, Iliana turns to Travis Telford, a young American who was friends with her husband, for help.

The story had lots of good elements, but at times it verged a little on melodrama for my taste (particularly the villain). I had a lot of sympathy for Iliana and wanted the best for her, but was often frustrated with how passive she had to be in her own story. I also wanted more backstory at the beginning--it seems like there was a lot of dramatic possibility in the unfolding relationship between Iliana and her husband, Ross, but the novel skips from their rather reserved courtship to a year after their marriage (maybe this is so we're not too attached to Ross and thus have room to be swayed by the inevitable later romance?) I also really disliked the storyline about Iliana's young son, but won't say more to avoid spoilers! That said, this is a clean (if at times a little violent) historical romance set in an interesting era of the American West.

If you're really interested in novels about the interplay between Hispanic and Anglo culture, check out Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton's historical novels (she was one of the first Hispanic writers to publish novels in English), like The Squatter and the Don.

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