The Lighthorseman (2006)

By Marjorie Jones

Here's the plot.

First up, the good stuff. Emily and Dale are very consistent characters, presented as fully-fleshed people with internal motivations that did not suffer from "author guiding their destinies" syndrome. All of their actions coincided with the personalities Jones established from the start. I cannot stand books where shrinking violets suddenly decide to become lion tamers, especially if the lion-taming is not detailed as a natural, realistic progression of tapping into a repressed side of her personality.

Descriptions of the landscape are quite vivid, but on occasion, Jones drifted toward list-making (especially with the use of colors to describe the sunsets, etc.). However, the dry, barren, yet beautiful imagery came across nicely. And I enjoyed the resolution she provided to the sage Aboriginal character, Blue. Often, mystic mentor characters just go on being wise and mystic, like non-humans. I like the idea that Dale and Emily reminded Blue that, darn it, he has a life to lead too, not just sitting on a rock being cryptic!

My main gripes fall into two categories: word choice and conflict. With regard to word choice, a number of phrases grated on my nerves as repetitive and almost careless for how often Jones used them. Stomachs (clenching, turning), spines (tingling, shuddering), and wombs! They're all over the place. The "womb" thing really bothered me, mostly because--although I know historicals tend to use more poetic language when describing anatomy and physical reactions--wombs can be darned painful! I did natural childbirth! My womb caused me lots of injury! I associate sexual feelings just a smidge farther south...

With regard to conflict, the plotting leaned heavily, almost exclusively, on Dale. Only he resisted the love pairing, leaving Emily the exclusive pursuer. I love a tortured hero, but without a vaguely resistant partner, the heroine winds up seeming desperate, throwing herself at a man who does not (appear to) want her. The fact that Emily arrives in Australia already in love with Dale--and that never changes--meant his justifiable guilt about Joel became over-worn and almost whiney.

Although I know this is a romance, not a military text, I would have appreciated a more substantial battle scene. Dale seemed to ride and ride, then leap a barricade--and that was it. Because so much of his angst is based on that incident, I thought it needed more gravitas and horror, if only to demonstrate how difficult it must have been for a soldier to reintegrate and find happiness with those memories clouding his sense of the present.

Despite the plethora of eroticism in romances these days, which I find just too much physical and not enough plot, good, hot sex scenes are a big pay off to romantic tension. Jones detailed only one! That's it! I would have appreciated a little more in that department, especially a bit of tender or teasing dialogue to show their growing trust and fondness--not just passion--for each other.

However, after all of this, I appreciated Jones's attempts to break a few rules. Dale and Emily never suffered some God-awful misunderstanding, the kind that can be solved with five honest minutes of conversation. And I liked the escapade with the shopping list--not the punchline, but because the sudden, quiet, rather domestic mystery of "what did she write on the list???" compelled me to read about four chapters past my bedtime. Jones proved that plot doesn't have to involve spies and espionage to keep pages turning.

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