Though this was marketed as genre romance, has a ridiculously long-haired male model on the inside cover flap, and won a Rita award, it feels much more like a mainstream historical novel than a genre romance. It's not faux-gritty, but real gritty; the heroine is genuinely hard as nails; many of the crucial scenes take place in the past and offstage; and the few sex scenes fade to black.

After the Civil War, when outlaws in the south sometimes became folk heroes, a family is killed in a train robbery, leaving the twelve-year-old daughter, Lily, an orphan. After some argument, the outlaws-- a family headed by the awful Hank Sharpe-- take her in. Jump ahead fourteen years. Lily, now publicly known as Lily the Cat, has been a full member of the gang, robbed trains, killed people, been hanged and survived with a nasty scar, and married Hank's son, Christian "Texas" Sharpe. All the while nursing a thirst for revenge!

Now she has ratted on them and fled, assuming them dead or jailed. This is where the action commences, by the way. Texas, wounded but more-or-less mobile, comes after her, hoping she didn't actually turn on them. Since it happens in chapter three, I don't think it gives away too much to say that she tricks him, then tries to shoot him point-blank. He manages to turn the tables. But when he drags her back to the family, everyone-- including, interestingly, Hank's biological daughter, whom he had hitherto kept ignorant of his occupation-- shifts loyalties, and figures out what they really want, who they are, and who they love.

I liked this quite a bit, largely because it absolutely doesn't downplay just how nasty and brutish it is to be an outlaw, and how much what you do affects who you are. Texas manages to not seem like a domineering asshole, which is amazing since he spends much of the book keeping Lily tied up; Lily is not conventionally likable at all, though of course I liked her anyway.

I am not at all sure that I buy the happy ending, though.
I hit what is clearly the plot point that everyone hates, and I... didn't hate it as much as I probably should have. I mean, I will probably hate the execution. But I actually like the idea.

Don't hold back! Show me your true strength!! )
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