Lady X’s Cowboy
by Zoe Archer
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5666-6
Romance Novel Land is riddled with upstart American beauties going to England to snag a rich, titled husband. But what if this convention was turned on its ear? That’s what Zoe Archer tackles in her debut novel when the Colorado cowboy hero comes to England and falls for a titled, albeit unconventional, widow.

In the years following her husband’s death, Lady Olivia Xavier has been defying society conventions. David left her a brewery, and instead of selling it or hiring someone to run it, Olivia has stepped into the role of businesswoman. This is fairly scandalous, even for late Victorian London, but Olivia is reveling in her newfound freedom. So when that independence is threatened, she decides she’ll do anything to protect it.

George Pryce is the fourth son of an earl, and resents the fact that his father wants him do something with his life. What good is it being old money if you cannot live a life of leisure? Pryce also highly resents the swelling ranks of the middle class, and those upstart merchants who are now walking around with titles they bought. However, he sees an opportunity to appease Daddy in Lady Xavier’s brewery. Too bad the uppity woman won’t sell to him. There’s only one thing left to do – hire thugs and force her out of business.

Will Coffin is a cowpuncher from Colorado who has come to London in search of his long, lost family. While taking a walk during the early evening hours he comes across a lady holding off three goons with only her reticule. Being a gentleman, he intervenes, thwarts the goons and saves the lady.

Lady Xavier cannot believe her eyes – a real life cowboy! Just like the ones she reads about in her favorite dime novels. He’s certainly proven himself capable and immediately intrigued she asks for his help in dealing with Pryce. In exchange, she will use her resources to help him find his family.

There is a lot to like in Archer’s debut, but the most notable is obviously Olivia. In a sub genre littered with scatterbrained little girls who cannot take care of themselves, Olivia is an adult. She’s a grown woman who desires to make her own way in the world. Her marriage was fairly typical of the English gentry, that is to say it wasn’t unpleasant, but it wasn’t terribly passionate either. Still, she mourned for her husband and the thought of endless teas, galas and sitting around doing needlepoint make to want to weep with boredom. Her brewery challenges and motivates her. She truly loves her work.

Will is a knight in shining armor wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson. He finds English society convoluted at best. The people he has met are either rude or just plain silly – but he feels that finding his long lost family will help him move on with his life. Then he meets Olivia and is captivated by how un-silly she is. That, and she’s a true beauty. Even without his code of honor, he would still help her for the only reason that she intrigues him.

If this story has one shortcoming it is Will’s dialogue, which borders on cliché. He is an American cowboy, so one wouldn’t expect him to talk high-falutin’, but his speech pattern is riddled with dropped g’s, and words like “fandango” and “bushwhacked.” Half the time I expected him to say “Aw, shucks ma’am” or “Golly gee.” It’s folksy and charming for a while, but does have a tendency to get a bit old. Readers who aren’t that keen on anything western to begin with will likely find it jarring.

That said, the characters and story far outweigh any minor annoyances where Will’s speech might be a concern. Olivia is so refreshingly straight forward and adult, she’s a nice contradiction to the bumbling society misses that seem to be overrunning Romance Novel London of late. Will is a perfect foil for her, as he’s charming and refreshing with his American ways. It’s a good match, and a perfect way to highlight what must have made America so appealing to millions of immigrants in the late 19th century. Lady X’s Cowboy is certainly different from a lot of what is being offered to historical readers these days – and that is always a good thing.

--Wendy Crutcher

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