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Luke Chandler says he wants nothing more than a quiet life on his land-claim in Dakota Territory. But what he also wants is a partner. The problem is, loving other men in 1881 means a lonely life for a man like Luke. As the son of a butcher from Boston, his desire for a loving domestic relationship seems nothing more than a dream, until one winter night, a snow storm blows a young man to his door in need of shelter. As the winter drags on, bringing with it a slow-burning love, his hopes begin to soar. Along with those hopes, his fears of the reactions of the people in the small town of De Smet grow.
Sam Smith is a romantic, but he also holds a strong family loyalty. He leaves Boston to get away from his parents’ expectations for a while, always knowing he must return at some point. The sweet young man does not anticipate meeting a rugged, honest man like Luke, who is desperate for love while at the same time afraid of the repercussions. The first time Luke holds him in his arms, Sam plans on making Luke his darling man.
When I saw that Fyn Alexander, who may be best known for her contemporary BDSM romantic suspense series Angel and the Assassin, released what looked to be a historical western romance, my interest was piqued. Although Angel and the Assassin pushed up against my envelope of things that I want to read, I dug Alexander’s straight-forward writing style and her development around the ruthless assassin Kael and his evolution as he learned to become more “human” around his Angel. Since I also enjoy historical romances, I was interested to see how Alexander’s style would translate to the lonely prairie of the 1880’s.
This is a straight-up historical. (No BDSM dungeons in the back of Luke’s prairie shanty.) The focus is on our two leads, seasoned farmer Luke, who has been living a lonely life on his own, and newcomer Sam, who has come to the Dakota Territory to farm his new claim, but his “book learnin’” about how to tend the land doesn’t cover everything. Thankfully for him, he is rescued from a blizzard by Luke, who takes in young Sam, and they soon realize that they have much more in common—they both prefer to be with men.
For fans of historicals, especially historical westerns, Winter Hearts is a good pick. It feels very much like a traditional historical romance, with the focus being on the trials these two men face, whether it’s with the terrain, or surviving with their secret relationship in a time where being gay was illegal. Alexander’s style is still very straight-forward, but I find it easy to sink into, and she dots her passages with sparse but fitting details that bring to life Luke’s small but cozy shanty (thanks to Sam for bringing the warm light in) and the harsh terrain they’re toiling away at.
My only down point is some of the conflict is based on one of my least favorite tropes (lack of communication). Also, since the novel is a historical, its mood is weighed down by the very heavy, very true conflict that you could be murdered for being gay back then, and Luke lived with an underlying fear that they would be caught and killed. It felt pretty heavy, and made me think that I probably love sci-fi and fantasy romance so much because the “queer factor” is often more accepted in those fantastical settings.
Do you love historicals? If so, and especially if you like ones with a western setting, then this is an easy book to recommend. Alexander sweeps you along with Luke and Sam’s love story. If you’re a nervous reader (like me), I can promise the ending is good.
Do you hate historicals? Then this is probably not the book to turn you over to the historical-side. It feels lovingly traditional, and is well-paced as it follows the seasons with Sam and Luke as their land and love grow.
I was super surprised that Alexander, whose Angel and the Assassin series has some BDSM scenes that I don’t want to ponder too much about (the Humbler!), could write such a sweet (although still very sexy-times laden) story set in the Old West. Very happily surprised. I look forward to seeing what the author comes up with next.