Regina Scott is a new-to-Miss-B author. Miss B’s relentless pursuit of good inspie fiction is running down like an wound-up toy. Scott’s Frontier Engagement is inspie-light (some heartfelt praying and one lovely forest-set singing of “Amazing Grace”), but not inspired to offer anything new or original in the subgenre. If you’re looking no further than the pleasantness that the subgenre has on offer with none of the offense that it occasionally exhibits, Scott’s 1866-Washington-frontier romance will be for you. Logger James Wallin travels to Seattle to bring a school teacher to Wallin Landing, his family’s fledgling town, and finds Alexandrina Eugenia Fosgrave, newly arrived with the Mercer expedition. Like all good inspie heroines, she’s suspicious and mistrustful, but James’ charm and persistence pay off: “So, like it or not, that schoolmarm had an engagement with the frontier.” James convinces Alexandrina, re-christening her with the diminutive “Rina,” as they set off for Wallin Landing, where Rina hopes to “make something good out of the tatters of her life, where she could make a difference.” Readers soon realize that James’ charm and humour, as well as Rina’s regal bearing, conceal psychic wounds. But Rina is barely established in Wallin Landing when the challenges of teaching leave her tear-eyed and on her way to an easier teaching post. To ensure her safety and, frankly, because he’s sweet on her, James accompanies her in the guise of her fiancé and the narrative makes an about-face, becoming an inspie road romance. The “road” provides much fodder for both humorous and dangerous incidents, as well as James and Rina opportunity to know each other better and grow closer in love and friendship.
Other than its lack of originality, Miss Bates’ problem with Scott’s Frontier Engagement was its disjointed quality and weakened character development, as well as an inability to commit either to a humorous, or grave narrative tone. The first third was the strongest section, when James and Rina were in Wallin Landing and we were privy to their private, secret sorrows. James’ rogue-ful demeanor hides a sense of unworthiness, stemming from the accident that killed his father. James blames his fourteen-year-old self for failing to warn his father of the aptly named “widow-maker” when he, his brothers, and dad were first logging in Wallin Landing’s forest. James allows his guilt and lingering grief to colour his chance for love and commitment: “His father’s death had taught him that life was uncertain, unpredictable. The more you clutched close, the more could be taken from you. He had no intention of marrying, leaving behind a wife in sorrow or living with the pain of watching her die.” Rina’s story, however, is even more interesting. A foundling “found” by a couple of con artists, Rina and her adoptive parents posed as deposed European royalty and used their hard-luck story to filch money from sympathetic Americans in Massachusetts, until the Fosgraves were arrested. Rina, ignorant of their confabulations, escaped jail when they attested to her innocence. James’ harping on his guilt and unworthiness was tedious, but Rina’s story engaged Miss Bates (who always intends her puns).
Once Rina and James leave Wallin Landing, the narrative meanders through episode and adventure, as they encounter varmints and friends along the way. The road sees Rina and James share some tender moments, some ludicrous, some funny, some dangerous. Characterization, however, definitely gives way to plot. The characters remain one-dimensional, though Scott is aware that she must show some growth and healing. Scott shows humour and doesn’t preach at the reader. Her characters are likeable, but remain, at least for Miss Bates, flat. Scott can write a nice kiss, but inspie constraints ensure it lacks fire, even while it shows some skill at turning a phrase: “He felt himself slipping into those clear eyes. Then he was leaning closer, and she was leaning toward him. It was only natural for their lips to meet, brush. Hold. And he was falling, effortlessly, like a leaf dancing on the breeze.” See, pleasant enough and quite nicely told. Scott’s Frontier Engagement won’t rock your inspie world, but it can shine a little light into it.
Miss Bates just doesn’t know anymore with inspirational romance. When it’s gentle and inoffensive, it’s forgettable. When its elements are exaggerated and stakes high, even in a great romance novel like Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, the narrative strains, like a stringed instrument whose strings near-break and sound is strident, too piercing. Frontier Engagement, however, is a decent enough read. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says it is of “real comfort,” Emma.
Regina Scott’s Frontier Engagement is published by Harlequin and has been available since August 4th. You’ll find it at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.