Lady Anne’s Quest – Susan Page Davis

Received from Netgalley for review, thank you.

This is the second book in a trilogy, but does not suffer by being read first. The outcome of the first book is revealed (not that it’s anything that would ever be in much doubt) which may detract from the reading of it, but the events are summarized without too much pain for a new reader.

Which is actually a little bit surprising considering the internal recaps which occur in Lady Anne’s Quest. At certain points in the story, Anne and her companion on the journey, Daniel, meet up with new folk or reunite with known folk who need to be brought up to date – and what ensues reminds me of just about every reality show I’ve seen lately, in which the last five minutes prior to a commercial are recapped after the commercials as if the show’s producers figure the endless mindless advertisements will have destroyed viewers’ short term memories. (Or as if they just figure viewers are stupid. Or putting a recap there is cheaper than five minutes of fresh footage.) This happens several times over the course of the story; I kept hoping that with each successive recap (each longer than the last, to take in intervening events) some better device would be used (“Oh, dear, so much has happened,” said Anne, and between them over the next hour she and David told the tale) to prevent my being forced to say what I always end up saying to the non-present tv producers: “Yes. I know. I was here. Move on.”

Apart from that – easily skimmable – by and large I enjoyed the writing. It is not laboriously hammered home through dialect or description that David is just a boy from the Midwestern U.S. while Anne is a titled lady from England; this circumstance is not played for humor, with misunderstandings and misinterpretations and other suchlike attempts at humor which usually fall flat; David does not drop his G’s nor Anne her H’s; David doesn’t exclusively wear filthy jeans and a cowboy hat (though Anne does wear some impractical clothing, it’s more from having been unprepared than from being clueless); David does not say “ain’t” or fail to make subjects and verbs agree (“we was” or such). They are from different walks of life, and I believed it without all that nonsense, enough that the story had me wondering about whether Anne, resilient and adaptable as she is, would ever be readily able to accept Daniel’s proposal and begin a life as a frontierswoman.

Also, the attention to propriety is well in keeping with both the setting and the book’s billing as a Christian romance: among simple facts of life for Anne are a) she must find her uncle; b) corsets are cumbersome; c) she wishes Dan would not keep proposing; and d) for her reputation’s sake as well as for her own sense of decency she must never be alone with Dan at night. (Though she does ride alone with him during the day, at which time any number of interesting stops might be made – but night time is more indecorous, I suppose.)

I also enjoyed the story. The title is not a misnomer – this is a quest. Anne has a mission, to find the uncle who stands to inherit her family’s estate, and the more difficulties that arise or time that goes by, the more determined she is to see it through. It’s well done and enjoyable – although I can’t help thinking it might have been even more enjoyable if more time had been spent allowing the reader to admire the prairie through Anne’s eyes. There are always two schools (at least) of thought on how much description of a story’s setting is too much; I love Tolkien, so I suppose I automatically fall into the “a lot is never too much” school. I will say, though, the horses are described, and named, and referred to by their genders, all of which always raises an author in my esteem. And all of which is especially important in this setting: in a western-set book (or any other setting where horseback is the primary mode of transportation) people sometimes spend more hours a day with their horses than they do with other humans, so for them to mostly disregard the large four-legged conveyances they stick their saddles on is absurd. But it happens all the time in fiction. Not, happily, here.

For much of the book the obstacles encountered are believable; finding one man in the barely settled West is a perfect setup for this kind of story. Unfortunately, at a certain point about two thirds in everything becomes over-complicated, and the plot tangles to accommodate what I can only call a hare-brained scheme. I could buy the rest of the plot, but this just seemed like an excuse to wind up with two-thirds of the cast of good guys tied up in a barn. But even with that – and a circumstance of those events which I think might have been let pass with a bit less trauma and anguish than there was – the climax of the story and windup left the door open for the third book of the trilogy with a revelation that was nicely done, without stretching credulity. To call a book “pleasant” is often damning with faint praise, but here, in all the best senses of the word, it fits perfectly. Lady Anne’s Quest was a very pleasant read.

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