Cheryl Cowtan's Reviews > Emily

Emily by Juliet James
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At first glance, especially at the cover, and in the second and third chapters, you might think this is a light read. And it is a gently delivered plot, because of the author's style (authorial telling). However, as you read further you will be surprised to discover, just as I was, a dark undercurrent running through the mail-order-bride plot.

I should not have been surprised, because in the beginning of this novel, the author started out with a promise of male brutality. The main character, Emily, finds herself witness to a brutal murder which leads her to run away, the murderer in pursuit.

Yet this scene is quickly left behind as she leaps upon a train and is swept up into her next adventure - true love in the frontier. Emily reflects briefly on the original promise, which made me think it was an inciting incident, a clever plot event to get her where she needed to be.

It was also easy to miss this original promise because of the intrusive narrator. This style of writing later takes us into another example of male brutality, but it is so glossed over by "telling", we don't really experience it at the level we should.

"'Good girl,' he told her, as he began to take down his britches. 'Now this won't hurt a bit, and you might even like it...and never speak another word about it...'

Emily was terrified, of course, and frozen from the fear too. She thought of trying to cry out, but even as she had the thought of it, the door flew open and another man set upon Slim Jim, knocking him to the floor..."

The characterization in this novel could be much stronger if James freed the narration from that of "telling" to "showing". The telling allows the author to cram in a lot of material and story time into a short book but it holds the reader at arm's length.

saloon prostitute (image) see at my wordpress blog 'Mail Order Prostitutes in the Old West: Juliet James “Emily”

This disconnect between the reader and the characters is what lightens the dark side of this novel's plot. Look at the cover. Would you expect this book to be about a "mail order bride" prostitute ring? Well it is, and it isn't. It's about a family of brothers and the brides who arrive to their small Montana town, but beneath this light story a darker story is hinted at.

Though most of the dark deeds were glossed over, very little actually described, I was quite chilled by the concept. Probably because of my history of working in social work, specifically in violence against women.

Imagine young girls raised in the 1800s, arriving by train at small Western outposts
that are barely civilized. These girls arrive with little money, no contacts, nothing but hope, and a letter from a potential husband. They arrive thinking they're going to be married to a complete stranger (which is scary enough). Soon they find out the man who met them at the station will rape them and put them into service in the local saloon. OR rape them (these girls will mostly be virgins based on the time period) and then allow them to meet their husband under a pact of secrecy bought through threats (which we never really hear).

That premise is terrifying and these books (there is a series) could have provided a much deeper exploration into the dark side of mail order "briding". But not with the author's style which is to narrate the story on a surface level, rarely dipping down into the emotional richness that love, fear, abandonment and crime can instill. However, the author obviously did not want the brutality to be the point of her novel, and in that she succeeded.

Author, James has a talent for pacing and that's what held my interest, that and the characters, who are likable. The plot events chop along at a good rate, and I found myself turning the page into each new chapter to see what was coming. However, I could also put the book down if I had other things to do because the connection to the character's experiences was not as strong as it could be. As a light, quick read with the whisper of a deeper plot than your average Western romance, these books will serve to help you pass a rainy weekend.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
May 13, 2016 – Finished Reading
May 15, 2016 – Shelved

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