I did not like Ruth. No, not the book. The story was entertaining, in a “Perils of Pauline” sort of way. With each new mile traversed, a new disaster loomed. How would these challenges be overcome? This question kept the pages turning smartly. No, it was the primary character, Ms. Ruth Priggish, that I did not like. And lack of affinity with the heroine is a death knell for any romance novel.
Determined to escape an unwanted marriage with a man greater than four times her age, Ruth dons men’s clothing, steals supplies and a horse, and sets out, following in the footsteps of Marshal Dylan McCall. While it was true that the handsome lawman had already refused his help, and had indeed set of without her, Ruth figured that if she stayed out of his sight long enough, when she did reveal herself it would be too late for him to take her back. Thus he would be forced to escort her northward despite his resistance. A good plan? Well, we’ve all heard what happens to the best-laid plans…. Naturally things go wrong, with Ruth literally running into Dylan much earlier than anticipated. To her shock, he remains uncooperative, even going so far as to leave her behind yet again, albeit with full packs and horse. At a crossroads in her life, Ruth realizes she has a life-defining decision to make. She could either go back, facing the aged Oscar Flemming, or forward, into the unknown all alone. She chose the latter, stumbling onto a scene of carnage. One dead body, one squalling babe, and one wounded Marshal Dylan McCall. If Ruth thought she had problems before, they were threefold now! Her faith was strong, however, believing emphatically that if God brought her to it, he would bring her through it.
So begins the disaster, recovery, yet another disaster part of the book, which was vastly entertaining. Still, I found the Ruth character annoying. Why? She creates her own problems. Examples? OK. 1.) Not telling the old coot to get lost. (‘Course, doing so wouldn’t have enabled her to “get the guy”.) 2.) Shoving a gun barrel into the ribs of man whose help she needed. (Guaranteeing cooperation, that!) 3.) Nearly starving herself, the baby, and the wounded Dylan to death when there was food nearby. The horses had been slaughtered in the Indian attack. Start cutting, stewing, and making jerky that very same hour. Don’t let that largess rot. Survive first; cry over your actions later. (Harsh? Me? What’s the alternative? Death?) 4.) “Nursing” said child, a foundling she’d rescued from the burning wagon. Was milk to magically appear from her virgin breasts? (This scene made me cringe. One word: ouch!) I needn’t go on.
Choices like these unpleasantly permeated the entire story, but I liked Dylan. He seemed to be a fairly nice guy, just trying to keep himself together during trying times. Disappointingly, the reader isn’t allowed into his head very often. I would have enjoyed getting to know him better.
Another small complaint was the slightly heavy-handed Faith element. No, the preaching throughout the book didn’t bother me as much as the extreme obviousness of the parable. Baby needs milk and—miracle!—there’s a cow on the trail, udder tight with the necessary fluid. Common sense would have been to bring cow along, but no. That would be “stealing” so they leave cow behind and allow baby to suffer for a while. Never fear, God will provide and—miracle!—a nanny goat is located in the brush. This time they take the goat along and yet we get yet another miraculous bovine manifestation. (What happened to the goat?) And then there was David in the lion’s den verses Ruth and the mountain lion. Can anyone miss making that connection?
But anyway, those are my only complaints. Slightly too didactically heavy-handed and not enough time with Dylan. Oh, and Ruth. Although I tried hard to recall what I was like when I was seventeen and “filled with all the wisdom of the age,” I still could not find an affinity with the young woman—who came extremely close to the dreaded “TSTL” label, her only saving grace being her deep and abiding faith. Other than those picked nits, the book was enjoyable and, in many ways, has caused me to pause and evaluate my own walk with God. Is it where it should be? Where it needs to be? An action that is, if I’m not mistaken, the author’s understory.
Oh, and before I forget, that was the LONGEST epilogue that I have ever read!