Dare to Love by Wynema McGowan
(Pinnacle, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-786-00518-1
***
On a spring day in 1828 in Estado de Tejas, Jack Dare is called out by the drunken Wully Small. "Black Jack" notices that in the probable gunfight, a wagonload of newcomers will be in the line of fire. So when Wully starts to fire, Dare, instead of shooting, throws his knife to drop him. Dare then turns to admonish the interlopers and is instantly smitten by Annie Mapes.

An auspicious welcome for Annie, the community's new schoolteacher. Annie and her entourage had traveled from Philadelphia to settle in the dry southwest. The grand matron is Emma Fuller, a kindly woman who adopts children as a way of life.

Emma's stepson Abel, an aspiring lawyer and Annie's betrothed, is to follow them later. The respiratory illness of one of Emma's newly adopted children is the reason for the group's relocation. Accompanied only by a 15 year old driver hired off the streets of Philadelphia, Emma, Annie and the children travel alone. I did pause to wonder if two women in a lone wagon with only this retinue would have made this trip in the 1820's.

This territory is being administered from Mexico City, but Stephen Austin has provided the funds to hire men such as Jack Dare to range the areas and to keep the peace. Jack, the oldest of 6 surviving children of Evie Dare, has traveled with his siblings from Tennessee and they have carved out a place for themselves on the frontier.

Dare to Love is more than a western romance. McGowan carefully develops her characters by actions and often views them through the eyes of others. She sets this within a meticulous chronicle of everyday life in a small frontier town. From Annie teaching Braille to blind Markie Dare to frequent Comanche raids, McGowan exposes us to almost every conceivable facet of frontier life.

This strength of this novel sits on one side of the proverbial double edged sword. To create this atmosphere in a book, it must be done gradually and carefully. On the other side, its strength is also its weakness. The story crawled along at an incredibly slow pace. Annie's choice between the handsome, proficient but illiterate frontiersman Jack Dare and the transplanted Philadelphia lawyer is the pivot for the conflict in this story. Even so, the tension is barely discernible. For me, it makes a better resource book than a love story.

--Thea Davis


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