Top positive review
Karen Witemeyer's Latest Western Hits the Bulls-Eye!
Reviewed in the United States on June 17, 2021
I loved At Love's Command, and have enjoyed or loved plenty of Karen Witemeyer's other books. But I think The Heart's Charge might be my favorite of her books so far. In it, she's combined the classic action of a Western with the gentility of a historical romance and the built-in stakes that come with protecting children. In other words, The Heart's Charge contains almost every element I love in a book, plus a few I didn't expect.
One of my favorite elements, and one I didn't expect, is how much I loved Mark and Jonah. I appreciate and respect a multi-dimensional, swoon-worthy hero. With The Heart's Charge though, I think I honestly liked the heroes a bit more than the heroines. Mark and Jonah seemed a smidge more developed and their growth a bit more organic. Plus, I loved the twists and turns in their stories, such as Mark's proposal--twice--and how he and Kate got to the proposal the second time (whew, what a nail-biter)!
As for Jonah, he was probably my absolute favorite. He's the perfect example of how a shy, introverted man can still be a strong hero. He's brainy and spiritually grounded, yet still all man. He reminded me quite a bit of some Biblical warriors; his conversation about Jephtah with Abner was one of my favorite scenes. Additionally, I appreciate that while Jonah stays realistic about racism and admits it hurts, racism and race are not his major character motivators. He's not victimized or pigeonholed into his era like some historical Black characters. He's a man just like any other, struggling with personal problems just like any other. It just so happens his problem is Black skin, in an era when the only acceptable color was white.
All this, however, is not to say Karen skimped on the heroines. I loved Kate and Eliza, and seeing them work together. Just as Mark and Jonah are brothers, Eliza and Kate are sisters, and Karen nailed that relationship. She also nailed the way that Kate is the heart of Harmony House while Eliza is the head--and neither is more important than the other. I also applaud Karen for not falling into stereotypes, such as making Kate privileged and empty-headed, or Eliza a "sassy Black woman." That is, Eliza definitely knows her own mind, and Kate has always lived in privilege. But, these women are real and multifaceted. They're flawed in other ways, such as Eliza's tendency toward fear and control or Kate's tendency to poke her nose where it doesn't belong. You root for them, for the Horsemen, and for each couple together. Side note: brava, Karen, for pulling off a double romance!
I loved, absolutely loved, the secondary characters in The Heart's Charge, especially the kids. I'd have liked to see more of the boxcar boys, but I adored Al, Rawley, and Wart. Rawley in particular caught my attention, with how hardened he was yet how deeply he cared for "his boys." The twist with Al, while not entirely unexpected, was handled in a unique way for the book, and I could've cried at the story behind Wart's nickname. Throw in the other Harmony House kids, and...well, I just wanted to hug the daylights out of every one. But they didn't incite pity; rather, these are fully developed, real kids with personalities, who stay true to how kids forced to grow up too fast behave.
Finally, I don't usually get as much into the action side of a novel like this one. However, the action of The Heart's Charge kept me engaged and on edge from cover to cover. Some particular scenes, including Rawley's escape and the confrontation with the train, stick in my mind. The Los Almagres scheme, while not complicated, fits the story perfectly, as does the twist villain Karen pulled off. More than once, I found myself gasping, "Of course, why didn't I see this before?" The solutions make sense once you see them, but until then, and even after, it's a great ride.
Finally, I loved the mix of obvious and subtle spiritual threads in the story. They're obvious because when the characters speak about God, they often directly reference the Bible or characteristics of God. However, some of the threads focus more on how we as humans learn to embrace a perfect, loving God. The best example, and my favorite, is probably Eliza's story, as she relearned how God longed to claim her, love her, and not leave her alone. It gave me a faith boost for sure.
I'm not sure if Karen Whitmeyer can top The Heart's Charge, but I hope she gives it her best shot. In the meantime, I highly recommend you snap up this bulls-eye of a book and enjoy!