Reading Diary: Violet (Seven Brides) by Leigh Greenwood
"If you want Jeff to be truly happy, you'll have to go to Virginia."
"That's the last place I want to go."
"The part of Jeff that's missing is there. He'll never find it anywhere else."
"I don't understand."
"Jeff's bitterness over his arm is only part of what was wrong with him. He could have stood the losses of the war if there had been anything to go back to. But the South he loved was destroyed. Not the plantations, but the idealism, the chivalry. It wasn't a perfect world. Some of us can live without it, but others would rather die than try. . . Something died during those four years that can never be replaced . . ."
(Please don't ask me why the title is Violet but the cover is green. LOL! But I do have some funny trivia on the cover model for this book, if you're interested in some cover chat in the combox.)
I always knew I'd get to feature a Leigh Greenwood novel someday. It was just a matter of finding one that was good enough to keep me from being embarrassed to share the cover. And, though I didn't realise it until I was drafting this post, also a matter of finding one that wasn't about ranches and cows. Cattle just don't do it for me. (I'm sorry, Christopher!)
It must be said that characters aren't Greenwood's strongest point. I'd have to start a serious rereading project to be sure, but I believe that the same character plays his hero in about five different books. On the other hand, I didn't think that about the hero of this book at all. And I think what makes the difference is that Jeff Randolph lost an arm during the war--and Greenwood makes that a cornerstone of his character, who is in turn the centre of gravity for the entire novel.
Which takes care of another problem I occasionally have with Greenwood: that his novels sometimes lack a unifying theme and are "just" stories. Not so Violet! All the elements here rally together for the redemption of a man who will never be able to regain his lost arm, but who can still restore something else in his life.
Take the characters. Of course Jeff would fall in love with a "damn Yankee"! And of course his huge extended family would clutter up his book, while they keep a respectful distance from each other in the rest of the series. For another loss Jeff has never got over is that of his family's Virginia home: fourteen years after the war, he remains determined to restore their name and their fortunes. It is bad enough that nobody else seems to care about returning to Virginia; but several of his brothers have also added insult to injury by marrying Yankee and Jayhawk women. And yes, they all get into his hair, complicate his life, and being women, make a reasonable case for it being all his fault.
Then there are the settings. As I've hinted, Greenwood usually lets his plots unfold in "wide, open spaces": Violet stands out because about a third of the action unfolds while our leads are quarantined in a small boarding school. The climax itself takes place in the famous (or so I take it) silver mines of Leadville, Colorado--another confined space that more than underlines the fact that Jeff has been trapped in a prison of his own making for far too long . . . and that he's the only one who can break himself out.
Finally, take the ending, which is necessarily bittersweet, as is any peaceful life one manages to build after a war . . . "No matter where we go, there will always be ghosts" . . . "Okay, you can have a little one, but the rest are going to have to haunt somebody else, or I'll sic a New England witch on them."
Which is a long-winded way of saying that the title of this book should really be Jeff--LOL!
A final note: I don't usually rate books, but this time I will . . .
Four out of Five Confederate Battle Flags!
Image Sources: a) Seven Brides: Violet by Leigh Greenwood, b) Confederate battle flag
(Note: This is now also an entry in the latest Book Review Party at Cym Lowell's blog.)