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When we think about storytellers who've shaped our contemporary images of the American Southwest, names like Larry McMurtry , Horton Foote , heck, even Louis L'Amour come to mind.
Their novels, stage and film work encompass themes and issues which can be stark, humorous, edgy, raw and even boldly romantic in a tumble-weed swashbuckler sort of way. Yet the trait those authors' pieces have in common is that they're all social histories of a sort, recording the desires, challenges, triumphs and tragedies of folks whose lives intersected amidst the unforgiving climate of some of the nation's most beautiful country.
Authors who create western-set historical romance novels set as their task celebrating women of the West who forged lives of independence and meaning almost out of necessity, yet in ways their sisters in other parts of the U.S. hadn't the opportunities. And today's western-set historical romance heroine can come from any strata of society, exhibiting self-determination that jibes with our modern sensibilities, especially because, as American readers, we know these characters depict women very close to those who paved the way for the lives we're living.
Jessica Thornton is an example of the kind of woman long depicted in western-set romances. The heroine of Kaki Warner's marvelous debut, "Pieces of Sky ," Jessica has immigrated to America from her comfortable home in England. The gently bred deportment expert and milliner has fled everything she loves after surviving a violent act which left her deeply shamed - and with what some would consider a disgraceful secret.
While traveling in New Mexico to reunite with her brother, Jessica is injured in a deadly stagecoach accident, and is saved along with several others when one of the passengers, cussing, rough-and-tumble rancher Brady Wilkins, nearly cripples himself heading to his home and returning with help.
At Wilkins' ranch, Jessica finds Wilkins' family and workers are pleased to care for and welcome her. She's enchanted and comforted by the humble beauty of the New Mexico terrain, and the awkward, but tender attentions of Wilkins himself. Yet Jessica's got demons to face - and a bit of maturing to do, despite her advanced "spinster" status and rather too much experience with hard knocks.
And Wilkins? Well, learning what makes Brady Wilkins tick and drives him to save everyone's day is worth the price of admission to "Pieces of Sky," which is saying something, because the love story is grand and the novel's one to savor.
"Pieces of Sky" begins a series of romances featuring Brady Wilkins and his brothers. If Warner's depiction of Jessica and other female characters as capable and multi-faceted remains true, we're in for some special reads as the Wilkins men find themselves in the hands of women who've met the challenge of life in the American West, and who're ready for love.
What qualities of the western-set romance heroine do you most admire? How do you see western-set romance having been influenced by popular western genre fiction? What do you enjoy about western-set romance fiction?