Making the move into hardback is an interesting milestone in an author’s career. There must be quite a bit of strategy involved. Sometimes an author decides to move in a different direction in her hardback debut. Jill Barnett’s Sentimental Journey comes to mind. In the case of Jill Marie Landis, the decision was to remain faithful to her roots. Landis made her name as a romance author by writing compelling western
romances, often dealing with the conflict between settlers and native Americans. Summer Moon is a very good example of this kind of story.
Kate Whittingham is the daughter of the town whore in Applesby, Maine. Her mother turned her over to the local Catholic orphanage when she was nine years old. For twenty years, she lived with the nuns, first as a student and then as a teacher. But the orphanage closed and Kate is forced to make a new life for herself. She sees an advertisement in the
newspaper: “Rancher Seeking Wife.” Wanting a home and family of her own and wishing to leave the town which still stigmatizes her for her mother’s acts, Kate decides to respond. After months of correspondence with Reed Benton, she marries him by proxy and sets off for Texas.
Reed Benton, Jr., is a member of the Texas Rangers, the body constituted to try to bring order to the frontier in the years after the Civil War. He joined the Rangers five years earlier, after his wife was killed and his three year old son was kidnapped by the Comanches. In a raid on a Comanche camp, he encounters a boy with his eyes. He has found his son. But Daniel has no memory of his previous life. He is Fast Pony, son of
the great warrior Many Horses and his wife, Painted White Feather. He is Comanche. Reed has no choice but to leave the Rangers and take his son to his father’s home, the huge and prosperous Lone Star Ranch, which he had left in anger many years before.
Kate arrives at the Lone Star Ranch to discover that Reed Benton, Sr., has just died. Then, her husband arrives, wounded and almost delirious, with a boy in tow. She cares for him as his fever rises and responds to his advances. After all, they are married. Or are they?
When Reed recovers his senses, it turns out that Reed, Sr., had pretended to be his son and had forged the proxy papers. He had wanted to bring his son back to the ranch. So Kate has given herself to a man who is not truly her husband and who does not want a wife. But Reed needs someone to look after his son, someone to try to break through the
Comanche upbringing, someone to “civilize” him. So Reed goes back to the Rangers and Kate stays at Lone Star as housekeeper until the matter of their “marriage” can be untangled.
Summer Moon is vintage Landis. Her heroine is familiar - a woman who comes west and faces the beautiful but brutal frontier and who shows strength and courage in making a place for herself in this new world. Her hero is a man who has seen too much and who has shut himself off from feelings or even from any hope for a future who is forced to reevaluate his existence and to embrace life once again.
Central to the story is Fast Pony, a boy whose life has been turned upside down, who has to try to make sense of who he really is. The passages told from his point of view are among the most poignant in the novel. He is a very real and compelling character.
Landis is also very good at recreating the Texas of 1870. The many well drawn secondary characters provide a cross section of frontier society and the events she describes show the reader what life was like during these difficult years.
Summer Moon is a very good western romance. As Landis’ debut hardback, it is a very good choice. Her long time fans will not be disappointed and those who discover her writing will enjoy the story and the setting. Ballantine has wisely priced the book below the going rate, which should help get this author the audience she deserves.
I know that many romance fans are unhappy when a favorite author makes the jump to hardback, but my response is a bit different. I like it when a publisher decides that there is a demand for romance novels in this more “respectable” format. I’m glad when a talented author like Landis is given the opportunity to “move up.” And I am really happy
when the author stays true to her romance roots. Landis’ hardback debut is a great success.