Romance has long been accused of suffering from a general sameness: same characters, same plots, same endings. That is an arguable point, but looking at the new release table laden with vampires, werewolves, and erotica, and then more vampires, werewolves, and erotica, readers might think the effort put into the argument is wasted. The market is rather striking for its current homogeneity, so much so that titles offering the least bit of variation stand out. Jodi Thomas’ new release, Texas Rain, is immediately intriguing for that very reason. The story doesn’t have a paranormal element. Nor does it feature characters who define themselves by the quick, easy sex they have, or the quick, easy sex they want to have. In fact, there isn’t any sex, to speak of, in the book. Texas Rain is a pre-Civil War-set-Western and different enough in both approach and content that, at first blush, it seems like a revolution might be brewing on the new release table.
Unlike the current crop of contemporary, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night romances, Texas Rain is not comprised of an undemanding plot, nor is it driven by flip dialog. The jacket copy presents a rather accessible, and somewhat light, story between the principles, Rainey Adams – on the run from an abusive father and forced marriage – and Trevor McMurray – a Texas Ranger with trust issues. They meet at a country dance, where Rainey steals a kiss from Trevor, then steals his horse, and disappears into the Texas landscape. Trevor takes off to find Rainey, intending to retrieve his horse as much as to further explore his feelings for Rainey. As could be expected, this initial setup takes the reader through the first few chapters of the book, and then no further. Rainey and Trevor’s meeting, while cute, isn’t strong enough or a compelling enough engine to propel book length conflict. For that, Thomas turns to a subplot involving unhinted-at-bad guys that emerges nearly half way through the book.
In the interim, the pages are densely packed with details and secondary characters that flesh out the story, but also act as flotsam to be sifted through while searching for the romance. Trevor rescues a kidnapped and emotionally crippled toddler, who comes to be called Duck, who also comes to have more significance than the character truly deserves. Rainey befriends, or simply deals with, many women, from her friend Pearl to another friend Dottie, who crusades to free the slave Mamie, to Mrs. Vivian who own the boarding home where Rainey lives. If there is one point of centrality in Texas Rain it’s that the story is full of more elements than cannot be succinctly be handled in a bit under four hundred pages. Too often Thomas weaves threads only to abandon them for new strings and an all together different pattern. Rainey begins with a fear of her father, a fear of being in trapped in a marriage like her parents’. This motivates her character throughout, but the implied threat of Rainey’s father searching her out is a possibility left unmined. Likewise, Trevor has a complex – and overwrought – back story involving the loss of both his parents, and his, and his brothers’, struggles to keep their bit of Texas. Trevor’s past is included most likely as the thread that will bind the next Whispering Mountain books together, as his back story doesn’t impact the forward story.
With so much to deal with, it shouldn’t surprise that the romance builds slowly. Thomas keeps Rainey and Trevor apart for nearly the first half of the book with Trevor recovering from a gunshot wound and Rainey setting up a life for herself. The seperation doesn’t disappoint, as Thomas allows Rainey and Trevor to become acquainted with each other and explore their feelings through letters. Their initial courtship is hesitant but sweet. It is also through this letter writing process that Thomas introduces the book’s most sustainable conflict, a subplot involving murder and revenge that grows to include escaped prisoners and kidnapping.
Texas Rain succeeds, but it’s not quite the success it could be. There are simply too many of those threads laying about and it’s difficult to know which the story will come back around to and which were intended to be set aside for good. In the end, this book isn’t a call to sweep aside what presently dominates the new release table, as it is more reminiscent of trends gone by than it is revolutionary – Thomas has, after all, been writing Western historicals since the first time that subgenre was popular. But, it is also proof that diversity does exist in the genre.
You can visit Jodi here and purchase this book here and here.