REVIEW: The Gaucho’s Lady by Genevieve Turner
Dear Ms. Turner,
I’m not a fan of cowboys, for multiple reasons. But when I saw that your new historical romance, The Gaucho’s Lady, was set in Argentina, I requested it for review despite the fact that the hero was a gaucho, South America’s answer to a cowboy, because an Argentina setting is new to me.
The novel begins in the year 1905, in the pampas of the Santa Fe Province of Argentina. Eliana Suarez, an heiress, is about to be married off to Valera, a cruel and wealthy older man she wants no part of. Valera was to marry Eliana’s older sister, Julieta, but recently, Julieta died of influenza.
Eliana’s domineering and oppressive father, referred to only as Suarez, has decreed that the marriage between Valera and his youngest daughter must now take place instead, but her mother has come up with a plan to save Eliana—a plan that necessitates Eliana to compel one of her father’s gauchos to kidnap her at gunpoint.
Cowboy Juan Moreno exiled himself to Argentina to resolve a family quarrel and make up for past mistakes. While working on Suarez’s estancia as a gaucho, Juan lost his wife, Marisol, and the child she carried. As the book begins, his loss, like Eliana’s, is still fresh.
It has been two years since the weary Juan has seen his home in California, and he’s eager to begin the journey back. When Eliana pulls her gun on him, Juan is at first reluctant to aid her but he quickly realizes that she has no other options and agrees to take her as far as Buenos Aires, where Carolina, sister to her mother’s trusted maid, can shelter her.
Eliana brings along a small stowaway—her beloved dog, Carlito.
But Eliana and Juan’s journey is fraught with danger, from bandits, horse thieves, and her father’s men. And when they reach Buenos Aires, Carolina turns out to be part of a women’s only collective of anarchists. The women allow Juan to stay overnight, but after a sweet night spent in each other’s arms, Eliana and Juan must part company.
That is when things begin to go awry for Eliana, whose wrathful father is hot on her trail. To escape marriage to Valera, Eliana will have to rely on her courage, her wits, and luck—as well as on the gaucho who is beginning to worm his way into her heart.
The Gaucho’s Lady got off to a rough start; the attraction between Eliana and Juan came very early on and at first felt shoehorned in. When Eliana was injured falling off a horse, it read like a contrivance to have her ride with Juan and bring the two into proximity. Juan and Eliana also sleep huddled together for warmth and take turns touching each other accidentally while asleep. Not only is that something of a cliché, I didn’t buy that injured, grieving for her sister, in danger and on the run, Eliana would be turned on by all of this.
There is a scene in a tavern in which Eliana witnesses the tango, which was then considered an illicit dance by the middle and upper classes, performed by men, and then extricates Juan from a fight. There was a wildness to that section that made it feel a touch unsteady, but the payoff for this comes when Eliana gains courage from her actions and much later, when she asks Juan to dance the tango with her.
I would have liked more details about Buenos Aires when Juan and Eliana reached that city, but the book really turned a corner for me with the introduction of the female anarchists’ collective. This was something truly different that I had not come across in historical romances in thirty plus years of reading them.
While Eliana realizes quickly that she is no anarchist herself, reading the women’s newspapers, which bear their motto of no gods, no masters, no husbands, helps her realize that she must find the courage to chart her own destiny. But can she do so while she is pursued by her abusive father, while he forces her into a corner, and when she depends on Juan?
Both of the main characters in this book are appealing and interesting. In his youth, Juan was not the best and most responsible of his parents’ children, nor always a great brother to his three sisters. But his years of travels and the tragedy of Marisol’s death have matured him, and his determination to behave better makes him honorable to the bone. I liked the way he both protected Eliana and respected her boundaries.
It was Eliana, though, who made the book for me, and in many ways, The Gaucho’s Lady feels like her coming of age journey. Watching her discover what freedom feels like, how to make her choices and to exercise her power, was truly wonderful.
The sex scenes are also compelling, in that Eliana was at first confounded and frustrated by her need to be anchored by Juan’s commands in the bedroom, while outside of it, she wanted more than anything to claim power of her own.
This aspect of the book could have so easily gone pear-shaped, but it doesn’t, because Eliana’s tentative exploration of her desires feels organic, part and parcel of her process of self-discovery, and because Juan not only admires her strength and resilience, but is also careful to understand and respect her boundaries, all along the way.
Another aspect of the book that, like Eliana’s coming of age, touched me deeply, was the exploration of the theme of exile. From its beginning to its end, the novel asked what being an exile means. Juan’s exile from California was self-imposed, part apology and part self-discipline of sorts. Eliana’s exile from her homeland was even more affecting, being driven by necessity, and involving, as it did, a constant need to adjust and adapt.
She didn’t completely fit into any situation he’d seen her in, yet her quiet, sustained attempts to adapt and adjust never ceased. And they never ceased to touch his heart, those small, unwavering attempts of hers.
I must say I felt similarly to Juan and his thoughts in this paragraph, more than any other, captured Eliana’s valiant nature for me. She soldiers on bravely despite missing her homeland and her mother.
The book also had a few heartrending moments, including one that was painfully evocative of today’s headlines.
“Never apologize for those moments of sadness. Exile is never easy to adjust to,” a line spoken late in the novel, rang so true. Although the novel was never heavy-handed, it made me feel that if there was ever a time when a historical romance dealing with immigration was needed, this is it.
There were also some nice touches in the last quarter of the novel, involving Juan’s family. I especially liked his sister Franny’s business model.
While I don’t know much about turn-of-the-century Argentina, from the limited amount I know about the early twentieth century, the book felt accurate to me. I could have that wrong, but I was never jarred by inaccuracies and that in itself is unusual for me these days.
Despite its wobbly start, The Gaucho’s Lady is not only romantic, sexy, and touching—it is also a novel our times call for. I’m really glad I gave it a chance. B.