This book was a join venture by authors Gina Welborn and Becca Whitham. Set in the late 1800s, The Promise Bride is the first in the Montana Brides Series. Emilia Stanek, wanting to save her family from hardship in Chicago, began correspondence with a man in Montana and eventually married him by proxy. When she arrived in Montana, though, the sheriff of the town meets her at the train station to tell her that her husband was dead, and she should go back. Without that option, Emilia stays and takes on her deceased husband’s farm and debts, all without ever having the benefit of meeting him. The sheriff, Mac to his friends, has been investigating Emilia’s husband’s death, and isn’t liking what he’s turning up about his closest friend. It looks like his intentions toward Emilia might not have been entirely honorable, which is against everything Mac thought he knew about his friend. Meanwhile, Emilia is successfully, though with a good deal of struggle, handling the farm and her deceased husband’s lenders, as well as refusing to listen to anything Mac tries to tell her about leaving, or evidence that she could be in danger, or anything at all. And worst of all, she’s worming her way into his heart, but he could never be hitched to a good woman like her, on account of his past and his parentage.
This novel has a great deal of possibility to be cheesy, corny, and unbelievable. However, it’s none of these. The characters are sympathetic and true, the struggles made real by beautiful storytelling and description, and if anything seems a little contrived here or there, the story’s pace doesn’t give you time to notice.
For example, Mac and Emilia’s struggle to deny the pull they feel for one another – hers out of loyalty to her deceased husband and his out of shame of his past – could have elicited a “Whatever. That’s ridiculous because she never even met the guy, and he should know that wouldn’t matter to a person as kind as she is.” But no, the story is woven in such a way that all the reader can think is “No!!! Don’t walk away from her; she’ll understand!” Feeling what the characters feel…great reading experience.
Another thing that I enjoyed were the elements of mystery and suspense. The big crime of the novel was committed right at the beginning, but the solving that crime, as well as the possibility of danger to the dead man’s widow – Emilia – leaves the reader just a bit off-centered while reading. “What’s going to happen? They can’t let her get hurt….can they???”
The story in The Promise Bride is like a treasure tied to the end of a long piece of yarn, wound around and around into a ball. As the reader progresses through the story, strand after strand of the yarn is removed, getting closer to the center that is obviously going to be good, but still hidden, still with an element of mystery. The closer to the center of the ball of yarn the reader gets, the treasure is somewhat revealed – shape, maybe, or size. But it isn’t until the very last strand is removed, and all the reader has in hand is the treasure, that the whole of the story comes together and is revealed by the authors.
Great job, Gina and Becca! Readers, this story is a fun, fast-paced, and yet meaningful read.