Living a life of luxury in a blossoming North Carolina town, Dawsey Wilkes does not suspect that the root of her family’s problems is hidden in the bandit-ridden backwoods. Dawsey has never questioned whether her father’s mental breakdown was due to anything more than her mother’s death, which left the lonely and heartbroken widower to raise infant Dawsey by himself. But when she comes across thieves in her father’s study, Dawsey is literally ripped from her privileged life. She finds herself deep in the woods of Shuffletown, where one of her captors is a girl who could be her doppelganger. Could Ellie McRae hold the key to her family’s troubles? And will Dawsey make it back to her father before one of Ellie’s brothers wins her heart?
What sounded like a fast-paced, action-filled historical romance about bandits and imprisoned girls didn’t quite meet my expectations. It wasn’t until chapter thirteen that anything actually occurred to bring our hero and heroine together, and I was almost ready to give up. While I was immediately captivated by the story of Dawsey, her mentally unstable father and her guardian aunt, it took me longer to warm up to the McRae family. We’re introduced to the character of Ellie – whose name isn’t on the back-cover of the book, confusingly me immensely as I tried to work out who she was and why she had so much page-time – and her older brothers, Duncan and Hooper – neither of whom interested me, making me wonder why one of them would turn out to be Dawsey’s love-interest. Thankfully, once Dawsey was kidnapped in chapter thirteen the story picked up the pace and was able to keep my interest.
I eventually warmed to the McRae family and they were a very endearing, entertaining bunch of characters. They explained to Dawsey why they were living in the backwoods of North Carolina, and we got a very small history lesson on the suffering that Native Americans experienced during the Civil War. At least, I think that’s what they were talking about. The details were so vague that someone who hasn’t studied this period of US history might not have understood the McRae’s explanation. I prefer my historical romances to actually have some real history in them, rather than just having a general “historical” feel because the characters ride horses, hunt and occasionally reference a war gone by. However, I did enjoy reading about the McRae’s and witnessing Dawsey’s growing relationship with them. Hooper became an interesting character, but he didn’t seem as fleshed out as Dawsey and Ellie. As for Duncan, he had so little page-time that I immediately suspected that he would lose the fight for Dawsey’s affection. Despite this, it was still amusing to see the two brothers fight over our heroine, if a bit redundant.
Ellie got a little romantic subplot of her own, and I have to admit that at times I preferred her story to Dawsey’s. My only complaint about Ellie would be her slightly awkward, unneeded discussions with Dawsey about God and prayer. Every so often, the author would chuck in a scene where Dawsey witnessed to Ellie and it felt very forced, making for uncomfortable reading. I’m not sure why the author decided to add these sections when Dawsey’s faith in God was already apparent and succeeded in classifying the novel as inspirational. Other than this, Ellie and Dawsey were wonderful characters. Even if Hooper and Duncan weren’t entirely convincing, the girls were, suggesting that perhaps the author needs to work on her portrayal of male characters. That said, I would be interested in reading more about Duncan and I would consider continuing this series if further books featured him and Ellie.
While I have a lot of criticisms of this book, I’ll admit that it was a pleasant read and kept me entertained. Raider’s Heart doesn’t bring anything particularly new and original to the genre of inspirational historical romance, but readers can rely on Marcia Gruver’s Backwoods Buccaneers series to provide an interesting setting, plenty of conflict, clean romance and a splash of history. 7/10
Many thanks to Barbour and NetGalley for giving me the chance to review this book.