Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: The Reluctant Outlaw by Karen Kirst (3 stars, Western)

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Thoughts After Reading:
Maybe I haven’t read as many “Love Inspired Historical” Harlequins as I believed. I knew the Love Inspired series is composed of clean reads, but – before reading Karen Kirst’s The Reluctant Outlaw – I had no idea how much of a christian slant some of them had as well.  To me, The Reluctant Outlaw had an odd assortment of conflicting elements. It was a heavily christian romance, which means (among other things) that there were some very serious themes of prayer, rediscovering God, and forgiveness. Conversely, the initial feel of the book seemed to be rather lighthearted. The occasional comedy, the times when the heroine’s behavior bordered TSTL, and pieces of dialogue that I can describe only as “corny” made it difficult for me to take the novel seriously. Then, as the book progressed it became significantly angsty and made a half-hearted effort at suspense. And don't even get me started on the resolution to the external conflict – it was simply ridiculous. The multiple contrasts were all a bit confusing, and none of them were particularly appealing.

In some ways, the storyline of The Reluctant Outlaw was a very typical captor-captive romance. The hero kidnaps the heroine, but he isn’t really an outlaw. He’s been on a quest for revenge ever since his brother was murdered by thieves. So he joins up with a group of outlaws, pretending to be a wanted man. He believes part of the group was responsible for his brother’s death, but has had absolutely no luck at finding proof. The heroine steps into the picture when she goes to the store the outlaws are robbing. The hero tries to sneak her inside and then away, but the leader notices so the hero has to pretend he’s kidnapping her. He ends up bringing her towards his home, because he doesn’t want the gang tracking her back to her own house. It is very much an “on-the-road” romance, and the hero and heroine have to work through their feelings and the conflicting signals they’re sending to each other. On one hand, I rather liked the innocence of the relationship that the christian theme allowed for. On the other hand, the romance was often reduced to a disappointing level – either with mind-numbing angst (I like you… but I shouldn’t like you… but I do… but I’m not going to tell you) or with silly barriers (ie. the hero likes to tell himself not to fall in love – it will only hurt in the long run). I found the writing to be professional at times, but ridiculously corny at others. To share a couple of my favorites: “I’m not an outlaw. Despite evidence to the contrary, I am a law-abiding, God-fearing, honest-to-goodness farmer” and “She hadn’t lost her heart to an outlaw, but to a farmer-turned-undercover detective! The implications were too huge for her to grasp at that moment.” The external conflict was built up by having the characters make unrealistic choices, and then dragged out almost as long as the romantic conflict. I won’t spoil the final resolution, but the contrived deus ex machina made me want to cringe.

Karen Kirst’s The Reluctant Outlaw isn’t a horrible novel by any means - after all, it did manage to keep me interested until the end. It is, unfortunately, a book I would have rather not have started reading in the first place.  I found the overall storyline to be jumbled and disappointing, and – as I’m not a huge reader of christian romance – found nothing in the spiritual elements to make the story worth reading either.

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