I bought this book on sale, because 1) I read a wagon train romance once when I was fourteen and really liked it; and 2) I like fairy tale retellings. Perhaps I should have done a little more research, because this book was not exciting and not much of a romance.
Callie is the servant/stepdaughter/Cinderella. She was left on the doorstep of the Whitaker family by someone who must have really hated their baby, because the Whitakers are horrible people. Pa is the overbearing, angry control freak whom you must not cross. Ma is bossy and lazy, and claims that her two daughters are too delicate to do any real work, so Callie does all the cooking and cleaning. They’re traveling to California, because Pa said so.
Along the way, they meet up with a wagon train. Pa doesn’t want to join them, but after nearly drowning Callie and his youngest son during a river crossing, he changes his mind.
So, there’s a lot of episodic plot going on. Callie meets a friendly widow named Florida and her brother Luke, and they teach her how to read. The girls go to campfires and dance. The train leader flirts with everyone but especially Callie. There’s a hailstorm, an animal stampede, and Pa tries to abandon Callie in the wilderness. Callie wonders why she does all the work, but decides it’s too late to make a fuss about it now (she’s twenty-two).
They pass the site of an Indian battle and Ma and Pa prove how horrible they are by trying to take jewelry off of dead warriors. Callie has an inherent, progressive cultural sensitivity and says that’s a bad idea. Later, a man is hung for murder, and Callie is freaked out because she doesn’t think he had a fair trial, since she is an expert on the modern legal system.
Occasionally, Luke catches her alone and kisses her, but then pulls away and says, “This can’t happen.” Callie assumes he has some terrible secret from his past haunting him and preventing him from opening up to her, as any sheltered illiterate servant girl would think.
Callie has some shallow emotional development through the book. She learns to stand up for herself by forcing horrible people to allow her to help them. She never allows herself to have negative emotions, like bitterness, anger, or resentment, because they’re a waste of time. For the entire book she sticks up for her family and tries to keep them alive, even though they throw her out and shun her and treat her like crap. I would have liked her better if she realized she was better off without them, and only came back to help after forcing them to admit they were wrong.
Romance-wise, Callie spends a lot of time thinking she should fall in love with Magnus, the leader, even though he’s pretty domineering and rude. Then she has sex with Luke: “He lay spent beside her. Although he’d tried to ignore her, never said he loved her, she knew in her heart he felt the same.” Yeah. Then he goes on ignoring her.
The last quarter of the book is everything terrible that can happen on a wagon train, because the journey hasn’t been horrible enough.
Luke gets killed and buried. Wagons fall off mountains. Blizzards. Killing oxen. Starvation.
But then a handy Someone Ex Machina saves the day and Callie lives happily ever after.
Luke wasn’t dead after all! He find Callie right before she freezes to death!
I can only grade this as WTF.
Click to purchase: Amazon
Wagon Train Cinderella
by Shirley Kennedy
Release Date: February 3, 2015
Publisher: Lyrical Press