Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review: Where the River Once Flowed by Jennie Hansen (Whitney Finalist 2013)

Title: Where the River Once Flowed
Author: Jennie Hansen
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Digital Copy
This book would be rated: PG or PG-13 for violence and threatened rape

In 1879, the Sebastian family is eager to marry off fifteen-year-old Iliana, who is the last hope of producing an heir to inherit the family's vast property in New Mexico. Ben, a neighboring rancher, wants to make her his own, by force if necessary, so the family is delighted when Ross, a suitable Civil War veteran, shows up, marries Iliana, and quickly produces a son before grandpa's death. By 1891, Ross, too is dead, and Ben is still up to his evil ways-- forcing a deathbed engagement for Iliana from Ross, damming the creek that supplies water to both ranches, stealing Iliana's jewelry, and even killing her heir. So Iliana takes up with a Travis, a horse-trader, who helps her escape from big bad Ben. And guess what happens as they ride the horses?

While I loved the setting of this novel and felt that Hansen had a great sense of place in the New Mexico ranch, it was uncomfortable for me to read about Iliana, who was basically a pawn in the games of the men she encountered. Her grandfather doted on her, yet married her off when she was fifteen to a kind man who didn't love her, and neither man succeeded in protecting her from Ben. She was basically a placeholder, standing in for the land the men really wanted. And while Hansen did a good job establishing that Travis was a good guy, the romance between the two seemed more convenient than organic.

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