Wednesday, June 12, 2013
New Review: Shirl Henke’s GOLDEN LADY – Masterfully Written tale of the Old West!
This was Henke’s first novel, published in 1986, and is book 1 in the Old California Couplet (Love Unwilling is the other). The eBook version (which I read) may have changed slightly from the original since I know Henke is updating her backlist titles as she publishes them in e format. No matter the edition you read, it’s a grand story, impeccably researched and well told.
The story begins in 1848 as 19-year-old Esteban Santadar views the devastation from war torn Mexico City where the forces of Santa Anna have lost to the Americans. Wounded, he goes home to Sonora to heal and to resume his life among his aristocratic family. At the same time, 13-year-old Amanda Whittaker’s father dies on a wagon train headed west, leading her mother to marry a hard man just to survive. Four years later, Esteban is coming into his own as a merchant trader and horse breeder working with his Irish uncle but being pressured by his family to take a worthy Mexican bride. A world away, Amanda is raped by her stepfather and she flees to San Francisco where she goes to work in a brothel, first as a maid and then, under pressure to help another, as one of the prostitutes. Amanda hated it, and at the first opportunity, left to find a better life.
One night in the brothel Amanda had seen a man (Esteban) who captured her young heart. Years later, when Amanda has been freed from the bordello and adopted by a rich German as the daughter he never had, she encounters Esteban once again, this time in connection with his beautiful golden palomino horses. He is taken by Amanda’s beauty and her ability with horses, and, of course, he pursues her. She tells Esteban lies about her past, even as she knows his family and his culture would insist he take only a pure bride. She doesn’t want a man to accept her as a “reformed whore” (her words), so she marries him even as her friends tell her she is building a house of cards that will one day fall.
I love that Henke brings you into the early days of San Francisco and the different cultures and attitudes that came together in that amazing city. I wasn’t too keen on the rape and prostitution of the heroine, but Henke did a good job of redeeming her. Amanda is a very likeable heroine, and while I could understand her not wanting a man she loved to know of her past, it was clear the lies she told would eventually lead to her downfall. Henke brought us to that point in masterful fashion, as she did with Esteban's change of heart. There are also some wonderful secondary characters, too, including Esteban’s Irish uncle and his wife, the old man “Hoot” who helped the runaway Amanda, and of course the German who made her his daughter.
It’s a great story and I recommend it.