The second book in Kaki Warner’s Blood Rose Trilogy combines witty characters, nearly unbearable tension, and stunning prose to give it pride of place on the keeper shelf.
Reading Kaki Warner’s debut novel, Pieces of Sky, was one of the most exciting reading experiences I’ve ever had. Here was an author writing about life in New Mexico Territory in the late 1860s with such vivid imagery that I felt like I was there, and with characters so realistic I could almost swear they were people I knew.
Tricky to follow up on a debut like that, but Open Country more than holds its own. It continues the saga of the Wilkins brothers, focusing on middle brother Hank’s story while also giving readers plenty of time with Brady and Jessica from Pieces of Sky.
At the end of Pieces of Sky, I couldn’t have told you much about who Hank was. That’s not because he was poorly described, but because he’s a man of few words and the reader was never allowed inside his head. Of the three brothers, he’s the quietest (not difficult, since Brady and Jack seem to compete for attention), the biggest, the gentlest, and the hairiest. He has an affinity for treating wounded animals, and, after his heart is stomped on by a silly girl, he doesn’t say anything to his brothers about it. So, although I had these adjectives to describe Hank, I had no idea what made him tick.
Exploring the mysteries of Hank is one of the biggest pleasures of Open Country, so I won’t ruin it for readers. What I will tell you is that Hank is a lucky, lucky man. Not only does he survive a horrific train crash, but his fellow passenger is the courageous Molly McFarlane, a nurse who grew up helping her surgeon father amputate limbs and stitch up wounded men.
Molly’s in a world of trouble. Her dying sister begged Molly to take her two young children because their stepfather was up to no good. Molly’s now on the run, unsure of what exactly she’s running from or how close her brother-in-law is to finding her, and completely flummoxed at how to deal with her angry young nephew.
When their train crashes, she helps take care of the big wounded man she’d been staring at just before the crash. The doctor declares him a hopeless case, and Molly realizes she’ll get some compensation from the railroad if Hank’s death makes her a widow. So she marries him. While he’s unconscious.
But then he recovers.
Thanks to her surgical skills.
And that’s when Molly’s troubles really get interesting. She travels with Hank back to his family’s ranch, and lives there with his older brother Brady, Brady’s wife Jessica, and their children, as well as several servants who are more like family members. Hank’s memory is slow to return, and at first he thinks his marriage to Molly is real. Just as he’s figuring out that she’d been planning to profit from his death, Molly’s beginning to long for a real marriage with Hank.
Some of the best moments are during the period when Hank is desperately searching his memory for traces of his wife. He’s incredibly smart—a man more adept with numbers and mechanical objects than with words—so it really troubles him that Molly is missing from his memory. The fact that he’s missing out on the little details of their life before the accident bothers him most, and he spends his time trying to remember what her favorite food is, and how her breasts feel.
Kaki Warner is fantastic at detail, but she doesn’t bog a story down with it. Her writing style matches the setting perfectly—dry, sparse, and absolutely crackling with tension. This isn’t a place where the threat is to a character’s reputation; characters’ lives are in constant danger from villains, animals and the elements. Her characters laugh hard, love harder, and are willing to sacrifice everything for each other. They are irreverently funny, and Kaki Warner never shies away from showing life at its roughest, which gives the reader confidence that the characters have the toughness necessary to survive in this harsh setting.
It’s a beautifully spun tale that will leave readers satisfied, yet yearning for Jack’s story.
Open Country is released on June 1.
Rating: 9 (excellent)
Heat: 3 (sensual)
(First posted on The Season)