By Catherine Blackfeather
May 22, 2013
Lesbian/ Historical 1860’s
Fear sends a young girl fleeing her home in Canada's interior disguised as a boy. She comes to live among men, finding her way to a new town in the West, where she finds a place for herself. This new life is threatened, as her old life comes in pursuit. Her journey, both physical and emotional, brings her to a deep self-realization of who she really is, how she truly feels about life, love, and the importance of living honestly.
I was rather excited to read this book. The trope of a woman dressing and acting as a man is a favorite of mine. I also liked the idea the story taking place in a brothel. I felt it could be a really interesting story. Unfortunately, there were several issues that kept this book from popping for me.
I loved the beginning. Mitchie was left with a man who took her and her mom in and has been sexually abusing her since her mom passed away. In a moment of luck, she takes advantage of some boy’s clothes falling off a donation cart in town and decides this is her chance to run away and start a new life. Pretending to be a boy is a perfect guise for her. Mitchie has guts and I felt she’s going to be an interesting character.
She makes her way by doing laborer jobs that stray boys are doing all over, and manages to keep to herself so she’s not found out. Slowly she makes her way across Canada and ends up outside a brothel in a new town. Seeing a girl having a hard time chopping wood Mitchie offers help and the owner of the brothel lets her stay on. Mitchie settles in and starts working with Maisie, the brothel housekeeper/cook/odd job girl. Slowly the boss and girls accept her and her life is going well. Not soon after Mitchie arrives, Maisie seduces her when she accidentally walks in on Mitchie bathing and see’s she’s a girl. Maisie is into girls and has asked the working girls who’ve denied her.
This is the point where things kind of went off track for me. The issue for me was the abrupt manner in which it happened and how easily Mitchie, who is still very young and naïve about a lot of things, goes along with it without having any hesitancies. Also, Maisie’s approach is rather nonchalant and not particularly about Mitchie but that Mitchie was another girl to try and hit on. Don’t get me wrong, the sex was written fairly hotly and Maisie and her have a friendship due to working together. However, it felt slightly predatory on Maisie’s part and like it was just plopped in at that point without any kind of build-up to it. From that moment on they are inseparable and in love, which again felt off due a lack of a deep emotional connection.
The next issue I had with this story is that for a good part of it it’s mostly tell and not show. The author didn’t really get into the head of any of the characters in any depth, so I didn’t get too invested in them. Even now as I write this I have no idea who Mitchie is and she’s what this story is all about. I’m not saying this is a boring story, no, I kept reading and enjoyed it to some degree. But I think there was so much potential to really get where the characters were coming from in a more intimate way if the show part wasn’t in the sex only.
The story also took a few turns that also lead to a disconnect in its cohesiveness I felt. Instead of really developing the characters and relationships, random events and injustices were used to keep up any reader engagement or connection. For instance,
Maisie isn’t Mitchie’s lover for the whole story. And the second person that steps into Mitchie’s life as a lover, again, sort of abruptly starts it and there’s no feeling about where’s she’s coming from. I mean she’s known Mitchie for a few months and there were really no interactions between them until Mitchie gets seduced by her.
Maybe the reason this book didn’t work for me is because this is the second book I’ve read recently that used social injustice and or religious morality to drive the story and not the characters. I have read a lot of books recently in which social issues an attitudes pertaining to homosexuality are a huge part of the book. However, they were used as something that added depth to the characters, who they are, and not in place of, so I know it can be done.
I would say the best part of this book is Beryl, one of the prostitutes in the brothel. Beryl is a smart and interesting character for her time. I liked that she’s really OK with the fact that she prefers women and is able to keep the sex she has with men for money as a business transaction in her mind. She’s not that stereotype of the messed up whore, but that of a woman who has made choices that work for her and she’s OK with for the moment.
And the preacher’s wife was in some ways a very sympathetic character. Out of all the characters she’s the only one I felt had the potential for growth. She had a nice mix of having a heart that tried not to judge with her Christian morals-- she did---but she’s not malicious in her religious mind as the preacher is. She’s conflicted in many ways between her religious stance and reality. She’s the only character my mind latched onto with any curiosity to know more about and wonder if or how she will change.
How the book ended was also as abrupt as the sex being plopped in out of nowhere. There was no real feeling of retribution or closure on any level, which was bothersome as the whole story is mainly about injustice perpetrated on Mitchie. So that left me frustrated and feeling the story was incomplete.
I think, all in all, that if the author had gotten into the character’s heads more I would have loved this book. Maybe next time.
Heat Level: 4 several graphically written sex scenes. Fisting, FISTING?, which seemed really out of place for this story and innocent little Mitchie as a character.
Grade: It was OK