My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A Lady Bought With Rifles is an amalgam of great writing and stupid characterization that I was extremely frustrated reading it because it could have been one of those legendary bodice rippers that old school fans would be talking about to this day.
Upon the death of her father, British raised Miranda is called back to her father’s ranch in Mexico. There she meets two strikingly different American men, Trace, a mysterious pistolero, and Court Saunders, the foreman of Miranda’s newly inherited mines and lover to her resentful half-sister, Reina. Blond, panther-like and roguish, his sensual presence is almost irresistible.
The sisters both inherit the ranch. Miranda, being a foreigner, is aghast by the circumstances of the ranch and mines, particularly how the indigenous Mexicans are treated, how the evil Reina treats her, how gorgeous hunk Court pursues her…and just about every other thing she can find to complain about, rightly or wrongly.
Both Court and Trace take an interest in Miranda, but while Trace maintains an enigmatic distance it’s the Court who vows to make her his woman. Miranda quickly decides she loves Trace, the noble yet enigmatic, gunman. Me, I’ll take wicked, sexy Court.
This was not a bad novel, however, I absolutely loathed the heroine. She ruined what could have been a fun read into painful torture at times. I have never wanted to smack a protagonist as much as I have Miranda. She is ignorant of the new lands but thinks she knows better than everyone else before even asking for advice. She is inflexible, a misguided do-gooder (the type who’s always offended on someone else’s behalf) and–the worst sin of all–she has terrible taste in men. Sure Trace is appealing, with his darkly handsome cowboy looks, but it is Court who offers her genuine help. It’s Court who sticks around, who cares for her and her lands, while it’s Trace who goes off on escapades of his own, who is not even half as charismatic as Court and who has a sexual relationship with the woman he and Miranda cared for as a child!
Court offers marriage to Miranda after Trace runs off. Miranda flees, but when Court finds her she vows to resist him at every turn and does everything to deny her attraction to his intense magnetism.
“When I heard you were almost surely dead, that’s when I knew what you were to me. My woman. You rode back to me from the dead. I’ll never let you go again.”
Weak and spent, I said desperately, as if I were shouting at him in a foreign language, “You don’t love me or you’d care what I feel!”
“I do care. In a year you’ll love me.”
Even at that moment, when I hated him, my blood quickened as he smiled. I cried defiance as much to my treacherous body as to him. “I won’t. I’ll hate you more than I do know. “
“We’ll see.” He cupped my chin and raised my face. “You’re tired daring. Sleep now. You can give me your answer in the morning.”
I couldn’t let him kill Trace. But to submit to those muscular, golden-haired arms? Let him do the things Trace had? And it wouldn’t be for one time only, I was sure of that. Court might after a season let me go, but I had a frightening dread that if he possessed me long enough, he would drain me till I became his thing, his creature—that I wouldn’t go, even if he allowed it and Trace would take me.
And this super charismatic hunk is the villain???
Several points. Most romances at this time this book was written in 1977 had heroes who acted exactly as Court did and heroines who responded to their heroes (and yes, sometimes villains) just as Miranda does: “with her treacherous body.” I’m a bit familiar with Williams’ writing style as I’ve read another of her works. If she had written romances in the current year, her values would be more in line with the genre as it is today. I’m making a guess that Williams purposely turned the tables on the way historical romance novels (i.e. the bodice ripper) were written during the 1970’s. She wanted to write a bodice ripper that subverted expectations to make it compelling, but she just “Rian Johnsoned” it instead. (Yeah, The Last Jedi fans, I went there.)
Rather than ending with wildly sexual, devoted Court, a man who would walk through the fires of hell and back to get his woman, was more “macho” than “sensitive” it’s the tough but tender guy who abandons his woman and child to fight a war that isn’t his, who gets the heroine.
The two men are not so distinctly different as perhaps the author meant for the reader to feel: Court evil and Trace good. It’s more nuanced than that and it’s a risky line for the writer to tread because then the villain becomes more intriguing than the hero.
I compare to “A Lady Bought With Rifles” to Drusilla Campbell’s “The Frost and the Flame” and Anita Mill’s “Lady of Fire” because the villains in those books were much more compelling than the heroes. ALBWR is less fun than “The Frost and the Flame” and in “Lady of Fire” I actually liked the hero.
The great difference is in those two books is that the villain was undoubtedly villainous. Here Court is the antagonist, I wouldn’t call him the villain. For example, despite major doubts that his son is actually his (he’s not, Trace is) Court treats the boy with love and care. That is until Miranda cruelly throws it into Court’s face that he is not the father, and then, for the most part, Court ignores him, simply counting the days until the boy is to be sent off to boarding school. This leaves Miranda upset and befuddled. “Why oh why has Court’s behavior changed?” Gee, what could it be, you stupid cow? Court knew the kid wasn’t really his son, as Court could do basic math. Still, he was willing to pretend that the son of another man—a man he despised—was his, so long as Miranda went along with the pretense. When she viciously admits to Court that he wasn’t the father, did she really expect Court to react with glee?
I can’t emphasize enough how just hated her stupid, self-centered, sanctimonious character. Court was way too good for her. He warranted his own story with a happy ending. But Williams didn’t want that. As the author that was her decision. As the reader, it was not one I appreciated.
Like many older romance novels, this is truly a romance in the complete meaning of the word: an epic of great scope. Ostensibly the main part should be the love story between Trace and Miranda, yet it’s actually a much smaller part of the story that makes up the book.
In summary, as I wrote in my notes:
Take one exasperating, young, self-righteous heroine. Add one hero who spends 50 pages max with the heroine, disappears halfway through and is reunited with said heroine 10 pages from the end. Add a plethora of side characters whose deaths are used to manipulate sympathy for the annoying heroine. Add one sexy-as-hell, multifaceted villain/anti-hero whose downfall brought me to tears. Mix with uneven pacing and plotting.
End result: über disappointing 3 1/2 star read. I would have rated this 2 1/2 stars, but the writing is quite exceptional, and Court…
…Wonderfully erotic, tragically misunderstood Court deserved so much better than he got.
Originally posted on Goodreads.com