Spoiler Alert ⚠
3 1/2 Stars
A Lady Bought With Rifles is an amalgam of great writing and stupid characterization. I was extremely frustrated reading it because it could have been one of those legendary bodice rippers that old-school fans would be talking about to this day.
Upon her father’s death, the British-raised Miranda is called back to her father’s ranch in Mexico. There she meets two strikingly different American men, Trace, a tall, dark, and mysterious pistolero, and Court Saunders, the foreman of Miranda’s newly inherited mines and lover to her resentful half-sister, Reina. Blond, panther-like, and roguish, his sensual presence is almost irresistible.
The sisters both inherit the ranch. Miranda, being a foreigner, is aghast by the circumstances of the ranch and mines, particularly how the indigenous Mexicans are treated, how the evil Reina treats her, how gorgeous hunk Court pursues her…and just about every other thing she can find to complain about, rightly or wrongly.
This was not a bad novel, however… I absolutely loathed the heroine. She ruined what could have been a fun read into painful torture at times. I have never wanted to smack a protagonist as much as I have Miranda. She is ignorant of the new lands but thinks she knows better than everyone else before asking for advice. She is inflexible, a misguided do-gooder (the type who’s always offended on someone else’s behalf), and–the worst sin of all–she has terrible taste in men.
The Two Men
Both Court and Trace take an interest in Miranda, but while Trace maintains an enigmatic distance, it’s Court who vows to make her his woman. Miranda quickly decides she loves Trace, the noble yet inscrutable gunman. Me, I’ll take wicked, sexy Court.
Sure, Trace is appealing, with his darkly handsome cowboy looks, but it is Court who offers her genuine help. It’s Court who sticks around, who cares for her and her lands, while it’s Trace who goes off on escapades of his own, who is not even half as charismatic as Court and who has a sexual relationship with a young Native woman he and Miranda cared for as a child!
Court offers marriage to Miranda after Trace runs off. Miranda flees, yet Court eventually finds her, and she vows to resist him at every turn, doing everything to deny her attraction to his intense magnetism.
“When I heard you were almost surely dead, that’s when I knew what you were to me. My woman. You rode back to me from the dead. I’ll never let you go again.”
Weak and spent, I said desperately, as if I were shouting at him in a foreign language, “You don’t love me or you’d care what I feel!”
“I do care. In a year you’ll love me.”
Even at that moment, when I hated him, my blood quickened as he smiled. I cried defiance as much to my treacherous body as to him. “I won’t. I’ll hate you more than I do know. “
“We’ll see.” He cupped my chin and raised my face. “You’re tired darling. Sleep now. You can give me your answer in the morning.”
I couldn’t let him kill Trace. But to submit to those muscular, golden-haired arms? Let him do the things Trace had? And it wouldn’t be for one time only, I was sure of that. Court might after a season let me go, but I had a frightening dread that if he possessed me long enough, he would drain me till I became his thing, his creature—that I wouldn’t go, even if he allowed it and Trace would take me.
And this super charismatic hunk is the villain???
Breaking the Mold
Several points. Most romances at the time A Lady Bought With Rifles was written in 1977 had heroes who acted exactly as Court did. Heroines responded to their heroes (and yes, sometimes villains) just as Miranda does: “with her treacherous body.” I’m a bit familiar with Williams’ writing style as I’ve read other of her works. If she had written romances in the current era, her values would be more in line with the genre as it is today. I’m guessing that Williams purposely turned the tables on how historical romance novels (i.e., the bodice ripper) were written during the 1970s. She wanted to write a bodice ripper that subverted expectations to make it compelling, but she just Rian Johnsoned it instead. (Yeah, The Last Jedi fans, I went there.)
Rather than ending up with wildly sexual and devoted Court, a man who would walk through the fires of hell and back to get his woman, whose fatal flaw was more “macho” than “sensitive,” it’s the tough but tender guy, a guy who abandons his woman and child to fight a war that isn’t his, who gets the heroine.
The two men are not so distinctly different as perhaps the author meant for the reader to feel: Court evil and Trace good. It’s more nuanced than that, and it’s a risky line for the writer to tread because then the villain becomes more intriguing than the hero.
The Wrong Guy
I compare A Lady Bought With Rifles to Drusilla Campbell’s The Frost and the Flame and Anita Mills’ Lady of Fire because the villains in those books were much more compelling than the heroes. ALBWR is less fun than The Frost and the Flame, and in Lady of Fire, I actually liked the hero. The great difference is in those other two books, the villain was undoubtedly villainous.
Here, Court is the antagonist, although I wouldn’t call him the villain. For example, despite major doubts that his son is actually his (he’s not; Trace is the father), Court treats the boy with love and care. That is until Miranda cruelly throws it into Court’s face that he is not the father, and then, for the most part, Court ignores him, simply counting the days until the boy is to be sent off to boarding school.
This leaves Miranda upset and befuddled. “Why oh why has Court’s behavior changed?” Gee, what could it be, you stupid cow? Court knew the kid wasn’t really his son, as Court could do basic math. Still, he was willing to pretend that the son of another man—a man he despised—was his, so long as Miranda went along with the pretense. When she viciously admits to Court that he wasn’t the father, did she really expect Court to react with glee?
Final Analysis of A Lady Bought With Rifles
I can’t emphasize enough how I hated her stupid, self-centered, sanctimonious character. Court was way too good for her. He warranted his own story with a happy ending. But Williams didn’t want that. As the author, that was her decision. As the reader, it was not one I appreciated.
Like many older romance novels, this is truly a romance in the complete meaning of the word: an epic of great scope. Ostensibly the main part should be the love story between Trace and Miranda, yet it’s actually a much smaller part of the story that makes up the book.
In summary, as I wrote in my notes:
Take one exasperating, young, self-righteous heroine. Add one hero who spends 50 pages max with the heroine, disappears halfway through, and is reunited 10 pages from the end with the heroine. Add a plethora of side characters whose deaths are used to manipulate sympathy for the annoying heroine. Add one sexy-as-hell, multifaceted antagonist/anti-hero whose downfall brought me to tears. Mix with uneven pacing and plotting.
End result: über disappointing 3 1/2 star read. I would have rated this 2 1/2 stars, but the writing is quite exceptional and Court… SIGH… Wonderfully erotic, tragically misunderstood Court deserved so much better than he got.