I was very impressed with Dean's debut novel and her sophomore offering was equally good. So I was very excited when she announced the release of her third book and I was interested in how Dean would extend and develop a storyline and her group of characters through a series.
Rough Diamond introduces the town of Freewill and the Rough Diamond Saloon in a spectacular manner: the small, dusty town is pictured very clearly and daily life is portrayed vividly from the narration of breakfast at the boardinghouse of Mrs. Bradley to the grim and gritty reality of life at the outskirts of town (Read pp. 66-69).
At the heart of this story is coal and how integral it was to industry during that time -- and men lived and died by the coal they found in their claim. So imagine how important it is (and how dangerous) for Alice Reynolds to inherit a claim from her late husband -- and imagine the staggering amount of work needed to get to the coal and imagine again the prospective value of such a find for a woman during those times.
But Alice is a savvy and incredibly capable woman -- she may have come to Freewill as a frightened, hapless child bride -- but she has grown up and has an innate sense of survival. When she first meets Rupert Llewelyn, she has already gauged what kind of man he is by the way he knocks -- and she knows something doesn't quite fit when Rupert represents himself as a fool. He may have fooled all of Freewill with his act -- but he hasn't fooled Alice.
Rupert has a contract to fulfill and secrecy is involved -- but with Alice, he wants nothing more than to reveal the truth, to say what is already quite obvious between the two of them. This is the fun of this story -- they both know but neither one can say and neither one can deny the pure attraction that exists between the two of them.
I read this story as part of Reading Romances's challenge for February (Foreigners do it better) and it is interesting to find an Englishman in unfamiliar territory -- out of the streets of London and into the American frontier. Rupert's Englishness sets him apart -- literally and figuratively -- to Alice. She has never felt such strong emotions before Rupert and he has helped her discover what it is she truly wants for herself.
Alice is a small-town girl with big dreams -- her monthly Spectacular at the saloon is proof of this dream. She brings in costumes and acts from the big city and, for that one night, she and the fellows of Freewill allow themselves to be transported to a different place ... to a bigger world.
But Alice never realized how much bigger her dream was -- and only with Rupert does she dare the think about Paris.
Rupert is already living his dream -- after escaping the collieries in Wales, he has money and means and has traveled as far away from Wales as he could -- all the way to America. Being with Alice endangers his work and his dream -- he can't tell her his true purpose in Freewill because of the confidentiality clause -- but he doesn't want to lie to Alice either.
It is also interesting how Rupert takes on different personas because of his job -- and he has never wanted anything permanent -- but being with Alice has expanded Rupert's dream.
Dean is very good at writing relationships and she knows how to build anticipation and heighten sexual tension very well. She also has a wonderful sense of timing and developing a dramatic moment -- the culmination of Rupert and Alice's flirtation and Alice's monthly Spectacular all happen in that one breathtaking moment:
The intensity with which he looked at her affected her something terrible. She felt hot, and flustered, and she didn't know what she wanted. The overwhelming excitement at the conclusion of a Spectacular returned, but now it had a focus. Him.
This was getting her nowhere fast. Annoyance marched through her, at his caginess, at her own damn fascination with a man intent on lying to her. "So, if you aren't a fool, what are you?"
Removing his hands from his pockets, he moved toward her. Gaze steady on hers, he stopped close, so close she could see his eyes weren't truly black but instead the darkest of browns. She froze, unsure what would happen but desperate to discover. He didn't touch, did nothing more inappropriate than stand too close.
Then, he leaned down, and his lips brushed her ear. "Fascinated."
- pp. 96-97
The conflict isn't external but something innate in our hero and heroine: they are so used to living on their own and making decisions on their own that it is difficult for them to surrender their control to the other. Would they be willing to give it all up for love? Storywise, this wasn't as heart-wrenching and as emotionally taut as Enslaved -- but the story succeeds in making the readers fall in love with the town and the many personalities in Freewill.
Rough Diamond is the first book in Cassandra Dean's The Diamond (Western Escape) Series. Fool's Gold, the second book was released January 2013. (Will be reading it and reviewing it for the blog soon! ^_^)
To find out more about Cassandra Dean and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.
I read this book as part of the Reading Romances Challenge 2013 for February.