Prospector's_Only_ProspectI am, by nature, a cautious reader…I’m reluctant to try new authors, new foods, new settings, I like the tried and true. I’m cautious about beloved authors who migrate to new genres (please come back, Sarah Morgan and Molly O’Keefe), while I’d never begrudge a writer trying on new wings. So it was with a shaky heart I noted one of my favourite HP writers wrote a historical romance; “at least it’s still a romance,” I thought self-soothingly. And yet, I was delighted to realize I didn’t miss Collins HP because I was sucked in by The Prospector’s Only Prospect (not sure about the title, though), stayed up too late reading, spent the day half-into my responsibilities half-with-an-eye on the clock “When can I read my book again?”

To get us started and evidence how un-HP-like Collins has ventured, I offer you the blurbish bits:

After eight days in a cramped stagecoach, divorcée Marigold Davis already regrets her decision to come to Denver City to marry. She certainly didn’t realize she’d signed up for mosquitoes, mud, and scores of rough men eyeing her like a hot meal on a cold day. But with her life in Kansas all but incinerated, Marigold needs a husband. Even if she’s not the bride that gold prospector Virgil Gardner is expecting…

Virgil Gardner has a reputation as a grumpy hard-ass, and he’s fine with it. He’s also no fool—this is not the woman he agreed to marry. It takes a tough-as-nails woman to survive the harshness of a Rocky Mountain gold claim, and this whiskey-eyed, gentle beauty is certainly not the type. Now it’s just a matter of how quickly she’ll quit so he can find a wife who will stick. Someone who can care for the only thing he values even more than gold–his children.

But Marigold isn’t about to give in. Cramped in a one-room shack. Berry picking turned into a bear escape. Or cooking for an entire crew of bottomless pits. She’s got more grit than most. And just when Virgil starts to realize his replacement bride might be the treasure he’s been looking for, an unannounced guest arrives…to change everything.

Thinking about how Collins captures and captivates me with her HPs, I wanted to understand what it is she does, having the same I-wanna-read-nonstop experience with The Prospector’s Only Prospect. Collins surprises me: where I think I’m going to get conventional, I am delightfully surprised, where I think it’ll be tried-and-true, I’m challenged by her ability to take the genre on twists and turns and still give me the full romance yarn I love. In The Prospector’s Only Prospect, Collins captures the harshness, roughness, and deprivations of the gold-prospecting life. I loved the rough little historical details she gives us about 1870s Denver City. I learned about the debate between territory or state and she doesn’t shirk on how difficult life was, the sheer bareness of it, the lack of stuff. For example, heroine Marigold has a precious comb which she hangs on a peg, the cabin has a dirt floor, and to cook a meal…bake bread, make the family’s clothes, time-consuming and arduous.

The Prospector’s Only Prospect is rich in atmosphere and setting, secondary characters, and charming plot moppets, but the romance between Marigold and Virgil makes the novel. It’s complex, beautifully developped, and moving. I loved how Collins made Virgil and Marigold tough on the outside and soft and vulnerable on the inside. Marigold’s background and inner life are revealed before we get to know Virgil’s, which is no less heart-breaking. Marigold arrives in Denver City, leaving her sister and uncle behind, after hours of being sick on the train, and plain-old sad as she thinks: “She’d had nowhere to stay there, though. No place that was safe. No place that wanted her. It was the story of her life to hear the words. You can’t stay here.” Marigold and sister Pearl were orphaned, brought up by an uncle. Marigold thought she found someone to love and family to make with her husband Ben, but he was a cheating blackguard and humiliated her in divorce court.

Collins doesn’t mince words about what happens to a divorced woman: shamed and condemned. When Marigold sees that her sister may have a chance at happiness and without place or means of her own, she takes Pearl’s place as Virgil’s mail-order bride. I was happy Marigold was forthcoming and I didn’t have to endure a secret identity plot. This is what I mean about Collins surprising me: what I think will be conventional is not.

Marigold and Virgil set off for the cabin; they are snappish and annoyed: a sheer delight: ” ‘Keep up,’ he ordered. ‘My feet hurt.’ Her hands were in fists as she stalked across. When she got close enough, he saw her eyes were shiny with frustration. ‘These shoes are too small and your legs are too long.’ ‘My legs are exactly as long as they need to be to get me where I want to go.’ ” And then, Marigold’s first sight of the cabin: “Marigold made a noise like someone had knifed her. Okay, it was a shack. It was the best he had been able to throw together given the children had turned up with the spring melt.” Many nuggets of delight, but nothing matches Marigold giving Virgil a much-needed hair-cut: ” ‘It’s fine,’ she insisted but looked as if she needed to pee. ‘Maybe if these were sharper?’ She snipped the air twice. ‘You’re not paying for it,’ she reminded him. ‘Jesus Christ.’ He rose and went to the window, shifted to glimpse his reflection in the glass. ‘I look like a half-peeled potato!’ She bit her lips, showing no contrition at all. ‘I’ll get better now that I know what not to do.’ “

Through hardship and nature’s harshness, Marigold and Virgil are funny and tender. Their sharp banter only more beautifully develops their suitability. Their vulnerabilities: Marigold’s divorce leaving her with the constant doubt she doesn’t belong and Virgil’s origins as the illegitimate son of an indentured servant-mother with the constant thought he isn’t good enough make the bringing together of two smart, worthy, sexy, loving people a wonderful romance. Virgil and Marigold are not sentimental and their exchanges are the back-and-forth of straight-man Virgil and comic Marigold. Yet, their words, to our entertainment, belie how they care for and about each other. They bolster each other up and they validate each other where they’ve never been validated before. 

I’ll still read any HP Collins writes (and my HP reading has trickled down to one or two authors), but darn it, I’m emerging from my cautious cocoon to say, with Miss Austen, Collins has penned a moving, tender, funny, beautiful historical romance that has “no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.

Dani Collins’s The Prospector’s Only Prospect is published by Entangled Publishing. I received an e-ARC from Entangled, via Netgalley. This doesn’t not impede the free and honest expression of my opinion.

8 thoughts on “Review: Dani Collins’s THE PROSPECTOR’S ONLY PROSPECT

  1. Thanks for the review. I don’t read HP anymore and usually avoid those authors. This sounds delightful and a nice change of pace in the genre.


      1. And if the quotations aren’t enough, try the sample on amazon (for the print version), and you’ll get hooked!

        It’s really good writing that immediately shows you who each of the characters are, and sets up the conflict beautifully.

        Liked by 1 person

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