This inspirational romance is set in the lumber camps of Central Michigan in 1883. Lily Young’s search for her sister Edith leads her to the shanty towns that house the lumberjacks and the brothels that service them. Protected by the friendly photographer, Oren, for whom she works, Lily believes she can cope with shanty boys like handsome Connell McCormick. But Connell turns out to be the boss’s son, and his attraction to Lily doesn’t mean he agrees with her views on cleaning out the brothels and saving the beautiful pine forests from total destruction.
It’s always good to see a Midwest setting, and Hedlund’s vivid descriptions make full use of an underexplored slice of American history, reminding the reader that the swift progress of settlement created sizeable moral problems that had nothing to do with Western gunfights and cattle rustling. I enjoyed the settings in this novel very much.
I had some trouble liking the main characters. We are told Lily is lively and has a great sense of humor, but little of either characteristic shows up, and she comes across as both earnest and foolhardy, a strange combination. Connell’s subordination to his father, his hesitation to fight the villain, Carr, and the way his desire for Lily renders him speechless make him appear weak, particularly compared to Lily’s other suitor, Stuart. While I commend Hedlund for not giving us the conventional alpha male, I find Connell’s softer side — and the overwhelmingly physical nature of his attraction to Lily — a little off-putting.
Some dramatic moments seem contrived; why, for example, in a location so well supplied with prostitutes, should so many men want to rape Lily? And the prostitute Frankie seems to exist merely to further the plot.
And yet my overall impression was of an enjoyable and well-written story, sure to delight Hedlund’s fans.