Rating: 4.75 stars
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Dante Pane has left his old home at the BarChi ranch behind and started a new life on his own ranch. With a small group of hands he is trying to build a life at Brighton, the ranch previously owned by his brother and his family but left empty since everyone there was killed by wraiths. Dante is haunted, not only by the memories of his brother, but also by the thoughts of his own past and the mistakes he made back at the BarChi.
Part of Dante had always dreamed of a life with Deacon, foreman at the BarChi and childhood friend. He imagined a life where they lived as partners, both in work and their private lives. But Dante was never brave enough to claim that life, shamed early on by his grandfather for his interest in boys, and Deacon has moved on to a love with Aren. And despite Dante’s efforts to break them apart, Aren and Deacon share a bond Dante can never come between.
Life is lonely for Dante at Brighton, but he is still not particularly thrilled when Simon brings back a woman named Cami from his latest trip to BarChi. Cami came to the ranch looking for work and Aren suggested Simon bring her to Brighton instead. Dante doesn’t really want a woman around, especially one he must share his home with, but soon comes to realize how invaluable she is around the ranch. Cami soon has the men better fed, the house kept, the mending done, and best of all, the terrible smell of death gone from everywhere. And Dante finds a good friend in Cami, spending long evenings by the fire listening to her stories and talking together.
Soon Dante begins to notice Cami in new ways, appreciating the long lean lines of her body and the lithe, graceful way she moves, finding himself unexpectedly attracted to her after years of preferring only men. He has noticed Cami is a bit different in appearance from most other women, taller, with fuller eyebrows and a stronger jaw, none of the typical curves to her body. And one night he finds out the reason why, as although Cami lives her life as a woman, she was born a man. Yet that doesn’t change the way Dante feels about her at all; in fact, her femininity mixed with that slight masculine side appeals to him greatly. Soon Dante begins to see a new future for himself along with Cami, and is finally able to put his old dreams of a life with Deacon to rest. And when Cami’s safety is threatened, it only confirms for Dante that he has found his true love and he would die to protect her.
Also living at Brighton are ranch hands Simon and Frances, both of whom came with Dante from BarChi and whom we met in Song of Oestend. The two men share an incredibly close bond with each other. They are inseparable and know one another’s deepest secrets. Simon knows that Frances is in love with him, and Frances has accepted that Simon will never love him back in a romantic way. But there is still love between the two men, both emotional, and ultimately sexual. And although Simon will never feel a romantic love for Frances, the two men have made a life together and share an unbreakable bond.
Even as these two couples settle into life at Brighton, all is not well in Oestend. Everyone is experiencing crazy weather occurrences, cattle and chickens are dying mysteriously, flocks of birds appear circling for days at a time. The incidents begin to escalate, forcing many to abandon their ranches. Yet strangely, the one place that is unaffected is the BarChi. Although Dante wants to stay on his land, eventually they too are forced to leave and head for the safety of BarChi, along with many others that begin to seek refuge there. With Olsa’s help, soon Aren, Deacon, and Cami begin to understand what is wrong in Oestend, and what they might be able to do to solve the problem. Ultimately all three couples take on the mission to resolve the crisis and save Oestend, at the same time finding some healing for themselves.
This was such a lovely story, and a perfect follow up to the fabulous Song of Oestend which I reviewed last year and totally adored. I loved that we get to see Dante’s redemption, as he accepts his mistakes of the past and finds a new love with Cami. Dante is definitely a villain in the first book and I wondered if we’d ever be able to warm to him as the hero of his own story. But Sexton really helps us to see Dante’s remorse and his new self-awareness of his own mistakes. He comes to understand that his own fears of claiming the life that he wanted were what stood in the way of a relationship with Deacon, not Aren. He and Cami find a way to heal one another, as she helps him find love and a new future. And Dante’s unconditional love and acceptance of Cami make her feel safe and loved in a way she has never before experienced.
I also loved revisiting with Frances and Simon and watching their relationship grow. I think Sexton makes such a brave and interesting choice with these two. We have all read OFY stories (and in fact, Sexon herself wrote one of my favorites) and it would have been so easy and expected to suddenly have Simon realize a sexual attraction to Frances. But this story goes a different route, and even though the men have a deep love for one another, it is never romantic and Simon never feels a real physical attraction for Frances beyond a sexual release. Yet they find a way to make things works between them, crafting a loving partership that meets both their needs in the best way they possibly can.
It was great to visit with so many of the other characters from the first book, from the McAllens with their never ending supply of marriageable daughters, to the hands at BarChi, to Tama who continues to be a friend and confidant to Dante, and of course, to Aren and Deacon. Although this book is definitely Dante’s story, it includes many others and shows how interconnected lives are out in the remote wilderness of Oestend.
I really liked how the building of these relationships is only part of the story, and things are really settled between Dante and Cami, and Frances and Simon by about halfway through the book. At that point the focus shifts to the BarChi and Oestend as a whole, and the problems plaguing the land. I loved that we get to see the three couples solve this problem together, binding them as a group on their mission and finding a closeness with one another.
In addition to these elements, Sexton weaves an interesting thread throughout the book focused on women and gender roles. Life in Oestend, and in fact even in the cities, separates clearly between men and women. Women have far fewer choices and fewer rights. An unmarried woman does not have many options – working on a maids’ ranch, finding a scarce job in town, or prostitution. And a woman without a man’s protection faces the real risk of rape or attack. We also see the issue of gender roles play out with Cami of course. It is almost impossible for her to find a place for herself in the world without hiding her secrets, as gender lines are so firmly drawn. Sexton does a really wonderful job incorporating these themes throughout the story, from the desperation of McAllen to marry off his daughters, to Cami hiding her secrets, to France and Simon forming a nontraditional relationship, to the role of the wives and female hands, to the real risk and dangers women face. I think it was all quite well done.
My only small quibble with the story is that I think there are few too many gaps for a new reader to jump into this story without reading the first book. Many things are revealed in bits and pieces over time, but I think the book would benefit from a little more clarity on some issues, particularly more specifics on what happened between Dante, Deacon, and Aren at the BarChi and especially about the wraiths. They become a key element of the story’s resolution and I feel like new readers may be a bit lost understanding some of the things that happened in the first book that then affect this story. That is not to say that reading the first book is a must (although it was WONDERFUL and definitely worth reading), just that I think a few additional details would have made this book easier to pick up solo.
Overall I just loved Saviours of Oestend. I enjoyed watching the growing relationships between our two main couples and appreciated their uniqueness. The story gives us lovely romance and hot sexuality combined with a bit of an epic journey as our heroes and heroine work to save the land and the lives they love. I really enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it.