Thursday, 30 July 2015

Review: Wild Burn by Edie Harris (Plus Movie Recommendation)

4.5 stars

The set-up of Edie Harris' Western romance Wild Burn reads like someone dared Harris to come up with the most unfortunate first meeting between hero and heroine. Or maybe she found one of those weird creative writing prompts that pop up on Pintrest, accompanied by a stock image that should be on a motivational poster. Yes, I can see it now: a man (and his Stetson) are silhouetted against a mountainous ridge, and over the background of evening sky is white writing in an ill-chosen font:
Write a scenario in which the hero shoots the heroine when they first meet. Then make them fall in love. Oh, and make the heroine an ex-Catholic nun and the hero an ex-Confederate soldier who now kills Native Americans for a living. But you have to make the reader like him, right? 
It sounds fantastical at best, but Harris makes it work. The characterisation is wonderful; Moira, the heroine, left the sisterhood after a terrible event made her question her faith. She's still reeling, trying to find her place and make sense of the world, and put to rest thoughts of anger and revenge. It was nice to see the hero support her in this quest; too often heroes place their heroines on a pedestal, unable to easily acknowledge that a heroine's troubles are as important as the ones they themselves are facing.

The hero, Delany, was facing challenges trying to maintain moral distinctions and a sense of his humanity in amoral surroundings. The plot aided the development of both characters, while also providing an interesting look at the issues of post-Civil War America, including Catholic intolerance, the aftermath of the Civil War and the treatment of Native Americans.

The relationship between Delaney and Moira was tantalising and played out beautifully, but if I have one gripe, it's their absorbtion when things were getting hot and heavy. I get it, they're massively physically attracted to each other, but that doesn't mean that you should have your characters forgetting the presence of others and making out in the middle of the main street. For me, this really didn't gel; you'd think that an ex-solider would have better awareness of his surroundings, and an ex-nun and unmarried schoolteacher in a patriarchal society would desire a higher level of circumspection.

Still, Wild Burn made me think that maybe I should give Western romances another try. They're one of the few sub-genres I've never really enjoyed, as I can never get over my disquiet at the American exceptionalism and race relations they contain. I only bought Wild Burn because it had such good reviews, and because I was craving some frontier vibes after watching a German-language Western recently at Sydney's Audi German Film Festival.

The Dark Valley (Das Finstere Tal) is set in a remote valley in the high reaches of Austria, but don't be turned off by the fact it's not actually set in the Wild West. It's got that classic Eastwood main character: the rough-around-the-edges good guy outsider, seeking revenge for those that done him wrong. It's suspenseful, with a excellent surprise twist during the final showdown that you don't expect, despite all the clues. The acting is wonderful, and so is the camerawork. I went because I had free tickets, with the expectation I wouldn't like it very much, but I loved it. I've popped a trailer with English subtitles below so you can get a feel for it. If you want to watch it, it's on American Netflix. Australians, you lose out (again).

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