The Third Daughter starts off with a pair of childbirths, an appropriate beginning. Both Constable Steven Gravel and Willow Dawson have been scarred by a childbirth; both have decided that remaining single is preferable to another loss.
Remaining single would appear to be all too easy for Willow Dawson. Living on an isolated ranch in southwestern Alberta, Canada, in 1874, Willow has few opportunities to meet people, let alone eligible men. The eldest of Cletis Dawson’s three daughters, her Sioux mother died in childbirth when Willow was nine, with Willow as a horrified witness. Over the subsequent eleven years, Willow has become her father’s right hand man -herding cattle, judging the weather, keeping his books, and negotiating sales for him. Between the family’s isolated situation and Willow’s aversion to marriage, Cletis Dawson has accepted the fact that Willow will never marry.
When Steven Gravel’s wife died in childbirth, he joined the just-formed Northwest Mounted Police. His present posting is to the newly established Ft. McLeod. The fort has been supplying itself by hunting buffalo, but the buffalo herds have dwindled so that they are no longer reliable resources. Steven rides over to the Dawson Cattle Company to negotiate the purchase of 300 head of cattle to feed the fort.
Cletis Dawson sees Steven as a possible suitor for Willow’s younger sister, Emily. Emily is the homemaker of the Dawson family, an aspiring Martha Stewart stranded on the 19th century Alberta plains. She is also a strong-minded young lady who sees through her sister’s tough exterior to the sweetness beneath, and she has other plans for Constable Gravel. So does Constable Gravel. Steven thinks he should be courting Emily, but it is the prickly, independent Willow he wants and, eventually, it is Willow he goes after.
Willow and Steven’s story is played out against a background of the early settlement of the vast Canadian plains, where the distances are great and the climate is challenging. Ms. Fox is a wordsmith, and her descriptions bring the country to life:
“Rolling hills, snow now creating abstract patterns on their treeless sides, filled the horizon. To the west, the backbone of the Rockies etched an erratic horizon. A large group of cattle grazed on long-yellowed grass, the wind ruffling their fur.”
In addition to a setting that is almost a character in and of itself, Willow and Steven are surrounded by a well-drawn cast of secondary characters, including Willow’s youngest sister, a 13-year-old sprite named Libby. Even the ranch hands on the Dawson ranch achieve individuality as they take an unexpected hand in Willow’s courtship. There is a secondary romance which I found charming though it by no means stole the spotlight from Steven and Willow’s more complicated relationship.
I feel comfortable recommending The Third Daughter as a straightforward romance. I enjoyed reading about two people who met, got to know each other, and fell in love without the dreaded Big Misunderstanding ever rearing its ugly head. No misunderstanding, no suspense, no mystery. Just great characterization, more than competent writing, and a believable love affair. That’s a prescription for a satisfying romance.
--Nancy J. Silberstein