Content warnings: Racism, repeated mention of pregnancy/motherhood, discussions of grief and loss of spouse.
My Rating: 4 books out of 5
- Main character is a woman of colour
- Polyamory and resulting relationship discussions
- Julie Baptiste has no time for your judgement
- Half of these characters have names that I’m pretty sure are from Marvel movies
- This is the single most accepting town ever I love it
July 4th, 1886
Honest man seeking unorthodox marriage arrangement. I am in possession of a ranch of considerable size, totaling nearly 1,000 acres spanning Montana and Wyoming territories, and am a man of substantial means and good reputation. Must be resourceful and, above all, an independent woman. Young lady does not need to be proficient in cooking or housekeeping. Town is in need of a teacher, not a cook. Only a highly educated woman with the patience and mental fortitude to run a schoolhouse will be considered. Further details particular to marriage arrangement will be disclosed in future correspondence. Eager to hear from adventurous, open-minded women who are interested.
Respectfully, Forrest Wickes
PS: All wages earned from teaching will belong solely to young lady.
Heart and Hand came highly recommended by the members of the Heaving Bosoms Geriatric Friendship Cult, so obviously I was going to read it. I have covered a variety of novels with queer and unconventional relationships, and hope to make Sapphistication a welcoming space for all, so the opportunity to review a historical romance novel (which you all know I love) with a polyamorous relationship setup? Sign me up!
Also can we just take a moment to appreciate how beautiful the cover is? Because it’s gorgeous!
Julie Baptiste is a New York heiress who yearns for so much more than polite society life can offer her. So when she sees the marriage advert Forrest Wickes has placed not only for a wife, but for a teacher, she responds instantly. New York society goes wild, gossiping endlessly about how the Baptiste heiress has succumbed to the desperation of being a mail order bride, but Julie steps onto the train to Montana with nothing but hope that she can do some good with her new life on the frontier.
And she might still if her secret ever came to light, which was that she, heiress of the esteemed Baptiste family, hadn’t simply agreed to be a bride for the sake of a teaching position and the chance of adventure on the frontier to one man. She’d agreed to do it with two.
Oh yeah, Julie isn’t just marrying Forrest Wickes. She’s marrying William Barnes as well. While the two men do not appear to have a romantic relationship with each other, it is clear throughout the narrative that they love each other deeply in other ways. They both went away to war together as young men, and through the trials and tribulations of their lives since they have grown inseparable. What they seek in placing the advert, and what they find in Julie, is a woman they can both love who will be accepting of their situation in life and complete the family they have always dreamed of. Everyone in town seems to be okay with the unconventional marriage, which I didn’t expect but isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure it requires a little suspension of disbelief but I frequently read books where ghosts and dragons are a thing, so really suspending my disbelief is pretty easy overall. There are, of course, one or two people who judge them, but this is never a major issue and I’m pretty sure we only meet one of them one time. She shows up, judges and promptly fucks off. Julie, Forrest and Will marry in a church in front of the whole town, she takes both surnames, wears both rings and goes off to be their wife and run the town school. They’re all consenting, they all know, they’ve all agreed to the arrangement, and that’s that. Refreshing for a historical. Or even a contemporary, really. It was mentioned in the content warnings, but just to reiterate, there’s a lot of discussion of Julie becoming pregnant and having a baby and if that is something you dislike in your romance, or just something you find it difficult to read about this might be a book to sit out.
“I’m not going to let you push us away, and I’m sure as hell not letting you treat Julie like this. When it was just us, that was was one thing, but you will not do this to her.” Forrest jabbed a finger at Will. “I’m taking her to the schoolhouse. She’s got a dance to plan, and you’re going to do right by her and help. When I leave, you will take care of her. You will honor her. Now go wash that filth off yourself.”
Dear god these people need to communicate. When Julie arrived in Montana she wasn’t even aware she had been talking to both men. Sure, she knew she was marrying them both, which is good – that’s a good thing to be aware of – but she had no idea which letters were Will and which were Forrest. The main conflict in the story is that of jealousy, Julie is the newcomer to a town where her husbands have had lives before her, and her uncertainty regarding her relationship with Will is further emboldened when she realises the closeness of his relationship with a local widow. Lack of communication in relationships is something that bugs me, but I understand that Will’s growth throughout the novel is that of a man who learns to open himself up and discuss his feelings with the people he loves.
That said, TALK TO YOUR PARTNERS PEOPLE.
“I don’t…understand it,” her mother had told her with a shake of her head as Julie waited for a response from her family at the revelation that Julie had two husbands. Her family sat pressed in next to each other on a settee in the parlor. Julie stood with a hand each clutched by Forrest and William, who stood on either side of her. Their larger frames and warmth lent Julie strength during such a stressful time. “Maman, I love them,” Julie whispered.
I deliberated for a long time about my rating for this book, and eventually decided that for me it sits between 3 and 4 out of 5. I liked the characters, but I felt that throughout the novel while I learned a great deal about Julie and her life as a woman of colour in a predominantly white high society setting, but I didn’t learn much about either of her husbands. There’s a scene where it is discussed that both men went away to war – I am assuming the American Civil War from my limited knowledge of American history – and we get a little bit more detail about Will’s romantic past, but I would have loved to have seen more of them getting to know one another. We hear that Julie fell in love with Forrest (and, unknowingly, Will) through his letters but we never see any of them and I wish we had. There’s the set up at the end for a sequel, and as I did thoroughly enjoy Carter’s writing style I will definitely be reading it, in the hopes that perhaps it will provide a little more background to the characters. If you’re a fan of frontier romances, I did really enjoy this book and it was very well written, I just wish I’d gotten a bit more character-wise. It’s also on Kindle Unlimited if you have that!