21 July 2016

Review: No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer

Great Premise

I enjoy reading historical fiction, especially historical romance. But (and this is going to sound a little odd) I don’t like it to be too historically accurate. Well, I do and I don’t. I want the facts and figures to be accurate. I don’t want anachronisms, like references to certain inventions in a novel set ten years before the thing was actually invented. I want an accurate picture of life in that time and place.

But I don’t want it too accurate. Let’s face it, the world has come a long way in the last two hundred years, particularly in the area of rights for women, people of colour … anyone who isn’t white and male. The list of things women couldn’t do in nineteenth century America or England is longer than the list of what they could do. Many women were abused, physically, emotionally and spiritually (and the physical abuse was often a side-effect of the spiritual abuse).

I don’t want to read about that. If I wanted to read about abuse, I’d be reading non-fiction or serious women’s fiction, not light-hearted historical romance. I want my historical romance heroes to be men who treat women as equal but different, and I want my historical romance heroines to be intelligent women who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. And, yes, I realise that’s probably not historically accurate. And I don’t care.

Anyway, that all serves as background to what I especially enjoyed about No Other Will Do: a community owned by and run by women, a refuge. Yes, that’s historically inaccurate but this is fiction and I don’t care because it’s a great idea and history would have had a lot less conflict if the women had been in charge. But, predictably, the women have to defend their rights of ownership against men who want the town for its assets (men, always spoiling for a fight. See above).

A lot of novels, especially Westerns, feature financial difficulties—families at risk because they are behind on their payments. No Other Will Do takes this scenario from the other side, the point of view of the (female) banker, who has a responsibility to be a good steward of her inheritance:

Banking is stewardship. We can’t give to everyone who asks or we risk losing the ability to give to any. We must seek God’s wisdom and direction, then work hard not only to protect but also to increase what has been entrusted to us.

Hmm. Worth thinking about.

But Emma also has the physical threat of violence, and her desire to keep Harper’s Station as a refuge for those women with nowhere else to go.

No Other Will Do is written in Karen Witemeyer’s trademark witty style, but perhaps goes deeper into issues of equality and Christian sisterhood (and brotherhood) than her earlier novels. It’s good to see.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like: the weird dialogue descriptions, like Tori declared and Emma quipped and Tori chided. It makes me feel like I’m eight years old and reading Enid Blyton. It’s something I’ve seen in several books recently and I don’t know if it’s bad writing/editing or the start of a general trend. If it’s a trend, it’s one that doesn’t work for me. It also didn't feel right for the uneducated (or self-educated) Mal to be familiar with concepts such as feminism before the term was part of everyday English. The idea was understood (and ridiculed), the word is more modern.

The other thing was that this is supposed to be a women's colony: no men. Yet at the first sign of trouble, Emma calls in a man to help. And it ends up being the men who save the day. That irked me. On the plus side, there was no mansplaining--the hero (and other male characters. Well, except for the evildoer) did actually treat the women like the intelligent humans they were.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Karen Witemeyer at her website, and you can read the opening to No Other Will Do below.

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