Author: Laura Stone
Publisher: Interlude Press
Cover Artist: Design by C.B. Messer, Cover and Interior Illustrations by Colleen M. Good
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 12/03/2015
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Historical, New Adult, Western
In 1870s Texas, Renaldo Valle Santos, the youngest son of a large and traditional family, has been sent to train with Henry “Hank” Burnett, a freed slave and talented mesteñero—or horse-catcher—so he may continue the family horse trade. Bitter Springs is a sweeping epic that takes themes from traditional Mexican literature and Old Westerns to tell the story of a man coming into his own and realizing his destiny lies in the wild open spaces with the man who loves him, far from expectations of society.
This story begins with some family drama regarding several challenges facing Renaldo and his family. By the middle of chapter four, some of the strife had lessened but I was still struggling in getting to know Renaldo, the 21-yr old rancher. He’s kind and mostly in tune with the members of his family, especially his sister, and his goals are simple: be a contributing member of his family, remaining on their large farm, working one of the several industries they engage in. Beyond these obvious facts, his other desires and ambitions remained elusive, even to himself.
The moment Henry Burnett enters the scene, I sat up and thought, ‘ok, here we go, he seems interesting’ and I was intrigued. More on that later.
The writing is rather direct and accessible but felt somewhat shallow, just scratching the surface, particularly in terms of the characters. The language is middle of the road, nothing heavily colloquial given the time period. If it weren’t for the mention of petticoats and a couple of references to the recently ended Civil War, it would be easy to read this as a more contemporary Western.
One of my favorite characters is Renaldo’s sister, Calandaria. She’s spirited, smart, intuitive, and is ready to make her mark on the world. She’s ‘ahead of her time’ in the context of the 1870’s and the roles most women were expected to take, the ways they were supposed to comport themselves. She’s a good sister, especially to Renaldo.
A third of the way through the book and I was still struggling to discover the point, the motivations for these characters, even after Renaldo and Henry had met and spent some time together. I wasn’t exactly bored but I wasn’t riveted either. And then I had an epiphany: the writing style made it feel like everything was kept at arm’s length, formal, like the author wasn’t quite sure how, or ready, to allow these characters to really break through emotionally, especially Renaldo. The big exception was when the connection between Renaldo and Henry was finally able to reveal itself and breathe, opening all of those doors that had been kept shut throughout the story.
This is a simple storyline surrounded by lovingly described scenery and basic characters. There’s a lot of potential here, so much that could have been done to deepen every aspect. This is especially true for Henry. We do get some detail about is earlier life, and a bit of his emotional reaction to it all when he shares this, but not much more. The one exception to all of this would be the diversity of those characters, mandated by the location, and that was good to see and experience. The story feels realistic in a skimming the surface kind of way. It’s sweet and therefore a bit unique in the world of Westerns, so if you’ve been wanting to dip your toe into that genre, you’ll get a light taste of it here.
This is a ‘well done’ idea of a book but I can’t say I derived much joy while reading it.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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