Leigh Greenwood’s Seven Brides: Rose
I read a lot of trashy romance novels. Ever since my grandmother introduced me to Georgette Heyer, I’ve consumed them at a steady pace, and lucky for me there is no shortage of them out there. I tend to go for Regency romances and historical Westerns, but I’m a fan of several contemporary writers as well. My point here is that I read enough of them to be able to tell when one is really good and when one is just being phoned in by a busy author trying to churn out another title.
The other day in the local library I stumbled across Rose and was immediately intrigued by that fact that it was part of a series. I really enjoy it when an author sets up a fictional world with a cast of characters who all need some loving at some point, leading to multiple books set in a familiar place with, when done well, people that you want to read about over and over.
Rose is the first book in Greenwood’s Seven Brides series, which follows seven brothers making their way in post-Civil War Texas. I was immediately drawn in by the complexity of each of the brothers. It’s easy for a series to take one male stereotype and photocopy him into other books in the guise of a brother or a cousin, so one ends up reading the same book over and over again. Series like that also tend to marry everyone off within a three month period, or a year, so it seems that everyone just suddenly falls in the love and everything is happily ever after.
Greenwood introduces a family of brothers ranging in age from 24 to 7 (at the beginning of Rose), setting up stories that will span several decades. The hero in Rose is George, recently returned from the defeated Confederate army to find himself head of a family of wild brothers trying to defend their cattle ranch against bandits, Mexicans, and Reconstruction agents. He hires Rose, the daughter of a Union officer (which makes her an outcast in Austin), to be cook and housekeeper on the ranch.
George and Rose are immediately drawn to each other, but they face opposition in the form of George’s brothers. Jeff lost his arm and was a prisoner of war, and hates Rose for being a Yankee. His bitterness is a problem for the entire family, as his brothers can’t handle his gloom and he spends all his time lashing out at them. The next two brothers are 17-year-old twins, Hen and Monty, who were left in charge of the ranch at a young age when the older brothers and father went off to war. As a result, they’re rowdy and used to taking orders from nobody, so they chafe under Rose’s authority. Tyler is 13, and as the former cook, resents Rose taking his place; it’s also clear he is a boy in the throes of puberty and very moody. Seven-year-old Zac is the only one who takes to Rose immediately, craving a mother figure. The seventh brother, Madison, has yet to return from the war and nobody has heard from him in years.
All romance novels employ clichés and this one is no exception (it will end in marriage, and family is of the utmost importance). But Greenwood manages to work around the standard requirements of the genre and craft distinct individuals with their own personalities and quirks, a feat with a cast of characters this large. The dialogue is clever and funny, and the plot twists are intriguing. The main problem standing between Rose and George and true love is the family’s dark past, which comes in the form of a scandalous and cruel (and now dead) father whose evil ways haunt all of his sons and led to the death of his wife, who loved him in spite of it all.
The family history will haunt each of the brothers as they grow up and figure out where they want to go in the world. What’s exciting about Greenwood’s writing is that he build’s each brother’s dreams and ambitions in a way guaranteed to lead to a novel of his own in which he will find not only a botanically-named lover (the rest of the books are titled Violet, Daisy, Laurel, Iris, and Fern) but adventures in the late-19th century American West. This, in addition to Greenwood’s mastery of sexual tension, means I am currently hunting down the rest of the books because now I need to know what happens to each of these boys. Good romance writers leave you satisfied at the end, but also wanting more, and the best writers are the ones who actually give you more. Greenwood is definitely one of the best.
Thanks to lifeaquatic, for proving that Westerns don’t have to suck. We’ll look forward to more reviews as your treasure hunt for the rest of the series.
Also, we had to do a quick edit because Leigh Greenwood is a man. A man with a mustache, even.