Saturday, November 13, 2010

Guest Review - - Willow

By Linda Lael Miller
Publisher: Pocket
Release Date: September 28, 2010

Willow Gallagher’s wedding to a man who is blackmailing her is interrupted by the appearance of Gideon Marshall, a railroad baron and the man Willow married in a fake ceremony two years earlier. The fake wedding, a bad joke with Willow as victim, turns out to have been a legal ceremony. Gideon plans to have his marriage to Willow annulled to free him to marry the daughter of another major stockholder in the Central Pacific Railroad. He also has a second purpose for coming to Virginia City; he is determined to capture the outlaw who is robbing his trains. The outlaw is Willow’s brother Steven, to whom she is devoted. As if this weren’t complication enough, Gideon is also the younger son of Willow’s stepmother.

As a young teen, Willow had seen in Gideon’s portrait the personification of male good looks and courage. She had even called him Lancelot. Predictably, when they meet, she falls in love with him. Even the cruel trick he and his bother played on her is not enough to end her love. Gideon’s attraction to Willow is no less powerful, and the two are soon living as husband and wife on the ranch Gideon purchases for his bride. But Willow’s loyalties are tested, as she and Gideon struggle with trust issues and with their very different convictions about the kind of man Steven Gallagher truly is.

Willow spent the first nine years of her life with her mother (ironically named Chastity) and her mother’s outlaw lover; her brother and a Mexican servant Maria as her protectors. She has spent the last ten years in her father’s home with a stepmother who resents her as a reminder of Devlin Gallagher’s infidelity. Yet, except for being “high-spirited and impulsive,” she seems to have escaped remarkably unscathed and with extraordinarily dim memories of her early years. Separation from his father has been the defining factor in shaping the man her brother becomes, but neither her fatherless years, the death of her mother, nor the radical change from an outlaw’s life to a life of privilege appears to have affected Willow in significant ways. I had a difficult time accepting her apparently easy adjustment and a harder time seeing her as a heroine because she never seems grown up.

Gideon, too, leaves me ambivalent. He has decided appeal, but I can’t forget that he was a decade older than the then-seventeen-year old Willow when he agreed to the fake wedding. Like Willow, his past leaves few scars. He has grown up virtually parentless. His father is dead, and growing up in San Francisco, he and his brother see their mother, who lives in Montana Territory with her second husband, only occasionally. His resentment of his mother’s choices is revealed only after her death, a death that occurs unexpectedly and that conveniently frees Devlin Gallagher to marry his mistress, a more sympathetic character than his embittered wife. But it is Gideon’s brother Zachary that troubles me most of all. At first I saw him as a charming scoundrel, not above scoring off his golden-boy younger brother, yet not really evil. Then he turns out to have manipulated several “accidents” from which Gideon barely escapes with his life, and he also tries to force himself upon Willow. He’s a would-be murderer and rapist, and yet he just disappears from the story after Willow knees him and pushes him out of the rig. Another villain escapes as well. I found the characterization thin, and I was frustrated by plot points that were either dropped or concluded too conveniently.

Willow is a revised edition of an early book by Linda Lael Miller. The original was published in 1984, the year following Miller’s debut. Miller describes the new and improved version as a “retelling” and an expansion of “subplots, love scenes, and . . . characterization.”  Since I haven’t read the original, I can’t be sure what was added. The secondary love stories of Gideon’s intended bride and Steven and Willow’s father and his mistress may be among the additions. Almost certainly the number of love scenes has been increased, and perhaps the level of sensuality has been increased as well. The story pairs a stubborn, independent heroine and a prideful, dominant hero, and the resulting conflicts temporarily resolve themselves in bed (or outdoors or in the stable or . . .) until the couple achieves their HEA. It’s an interesting book as part of this author’s prolific oeuvre, and Miller’s many fans doubtless will enjoy this revamped story that in most ways is quintessential Linda Lael Miller.



  1. I have yet to read one of Linda's books although I have heard a lot of good things about her books I think I need to add some to my must have list

    Have Fun

  2. Helen, she has a terrific back list of westerns, both historical and contemporary. I love her McKettrick series.

  3. Helen, she is a hugely popular writer. My macho, former All-SEC offensive lineman brother is a huge fan of the McKettrick and Creed books. He didn't think Willow measured up to the other Miller books he's read.

  4. I have enjoyed Linda's books, but this one does sound like it stretches the credibility a bit. I will probably read it because it is one of hers, and to see what I think of it.