This is the most god-awful book of the most god-awful series that my suburban library carried around 2000-2002. I really hope they’ve weeded it off their shelves because it’s a horrid example of the worst dreck being pushed off to innocent teens in the guise of “historical fiction.”
Brides of Wildcat County, Scandalous: Eden’s Story, Jude Watson, 1995.
The cover ought to tell you exactly how bad this book is going to be, and it ALMOST does. Imagine the book being about 50% worse than the cover and you’ll be in the correct ballpark. This is the second book out of a five-book series, where the main plot is that there is this pathetic mining town called Last Chance in the vague time period of “after the end of the Civil War, before the turn of the century” and in the locale of “The West,” and the mining executives have decided to import a bunch of women to encourage pathetic miners to stay there. This cunning plan seems to get a lot of women who are living out their Exciting Dreams, rather than the realistic women who would respond to an ad for “Fine Ladies, Daring and Adventurous” (i.e., prostitutes, criminals, and poor women with no other options). Each book focuses on a different woman.
This book is about Eden, who “makes her living at the poker tables,” but is somehow a Classy Lady, despite the fact that a woman who made a living gambling would 100% not be a Classy Lady in this time period, at all, ever, goodnight. The book opens with Eden trying to get some sad sack to propose to her, and then turning him down when he does, and ruminating on Josiah Bullock, the son of the mining company and one of the brilliant schemers of this “imported women” plan. It is abundantly clear from Page 6 that they’re going to end up together while she’s thinking about his long hair and moody eyes.
Eden is going to go to a party in honour of her friend Savannah, who is getting married to a Bullock brother, and gets a bloomer costume made to go to it. When Eden runs into Josiah Bullock there she gets all pissed off that he doesn’t insult her dress (what) and then he points out that she’s stealing her friend’s thunder by wearing it to her party. And then for no real rhyme or reason Eden goes off to a card game and plays some guy who’s playing with shares of the Bullock Mining Company, and she wins, and becomes a part owner in the mine. She decides to tell Josiah this at Savannah’s wedding, where she is alternately described as wearing both “pink satin” and “pink silk” (note: not the same thing). Josiah freaks out and tells her he thinks there’s a rich vein out there and offers her a deal—he’ll go out and see the vein, and if it’s rich he’ll buy her shares at value-and-a-half; if not, he’ll give her his shares outright. Eden agrees on the terms that he allow her to accompany him. (This is, of course, Not Done for a young woman of any respectable background, but whatever, we seem to have left that all far behind here.)
Anyway, Eden flits off while Josiah is worried—literally—about losing her in a snowdrift because she’s “so tiny.” I don’t know what to do with that other than boggle. He deliberately decides to camp out in the woods rather than their cabin even after his brother points out that the cabin is nearby to everything and also, you know, a building. When they stop for a night, Josiah shoots (I’m guessing) a rabbit to make stew out of, although the part where he dresses out the rabbit and chops the vegetables is glossed over and they skip right to the “enjoying delicious stew” part of the evening. Then they talk quietly about the constellations and go to sleep. What?
The next day they go on riding and Eden goes on lying about her father, whom she claims is a British earl, when actually he is a poker player, and about her glory days in Paris and London. They arrive at….whatever spot Josiah had been thinking of, and he goes out during the day for two days and then on the third day doesn’t return. Eden panics and goes looking for him and climbs up a rock face (!!!) looking for him, and then he comes along and starts yelling at her for having the audacity to look for him. He tells her that he’s going to climb up there and get her, and she says why, she can get down just fine herself having gotten up there first, and then he slips and cracks his head open. I am…not devastated by this. Josiah sucks.
Eden gets some bandages together, puts him on the horse, and gets him back to the cabin and into bed. She then puts the horses out, lights a fire, and goes fishing for trout to keep them both fed, and generally comports herself correctly in every way. Then Josiah tells her “It’s time for you to hunt,” and I don’t…understand why? Like, it would be better if she could hunt, but she’s never shot a gun before so I doubt sending a total novice into the woods to maybe bag something would be a better bet than sending someone who knows how to fish and has a track record of success at fishing? Unsurprisingly Eden sucks at hunting and runs into a camp of men who tell her she’s beautiful and give her a dressed rabbit. There is no point to any of this. That night gets really cold and Josiah asks her to come sleep in his bed, and I remember being 13 and reading this and thinking it was just THE HOTTEST thing ever written. Why. Unsurprisingly, they start kissing, and then Eden wakes up the next morning and is IN LOVE.
The random men give Eden a random pheasant for no other reason than she’s pretty, and then she and Josiah leave. She wants to call off the bet, and Josiah says while he didn’t find gold, he found the second-best thing, which is silver, and I’m thinking this plotline (“it’s silver, not gold!”) is lifted from another children’s book called Bonanza Girl by Patricia Beatty, but whatever. Eden decides that she is in love and now her life is over because she’s lost the bet and now she has neither Josiah, nor the mines.
So they get back to Last Chance and Eden is all depressed because she thinks some other woman, Narcissa, is going to take Josiah away from her, so the other brides give her “lady lessons” like going to church and not playing poker and wearing scandalous dresses and stuff. Then she’s all bummed out because Josiah doesn’t pay any more attention to her doing that, either. But one of Eden’s old friends begs her to come and play cards, and she says yes, and Narcissa slimes over to Josiah to tell him all “Ohhh, we’re so worried about herrrr!” and Josiah goes running over to the saloon, where the gamblers throws him out, and Eden comes along all “WTF are you doing here?” since she wasn’t gambling at all, and then they go for a walk together and they are In Love. God. I know that’s a run-on sentence but I can’t bother to care because this entire book is so weirdly written that they practically have to hit you over the head with anything to make it make sense.
Eden is invited to Sunday dinner at Josiah’s parents’ house, and they are snobby Easterners, and Eden feeds her that garbage about being the daughter of a lord who lost his fortune, and then just as they are finishing up, Eden’s dad shows up. WHAT. Why??? He tells them he couldn’t possibly stay away from his daughter for another moment, and Josiah is all “Wow, the stories are true!” Wow, indeed, no one in this book has two functioning brain cells to rub together. When they’re finally alone, Eden’s dad is all “LOL I’m broke!” and Eden is like, no kidding. Then he tries to steal Josiah’s mother’s “creamer,” which I can only hope was empty at the time.
So Jack Moran goes around charming everyone in town, and Narcissa asks him to give a lecture on his experiences as a British aristocrat and I cannot imagine a more poorly-conceived lecture idea for a bunch of hardscrabble miners than what it’s like to be landed gentry. Lord. After the lecture, Josiah corners Eden to kiss her for a bit and ask her to marry her. Again: what. Then Jack tells Eden the next day that he wants to gamble for Mr. Bullock’s railroad stock, and Eden tells him to stay out of the mess and just let her get married. But just as Eden is getting fitted for her wedding dress, Mr. Bullock is off playing in some big high-stakes game, and shockingly, Jack is there too. So Eden foists off Josiah and goes up to the game herself, but then falls asleep and wakes up only in time to see her dad cheating at cards. There’s a shootout, and Eden and her father flee through the back exit, and then he’s all “Is something wrong?” and Eden is like WTF YES MANY THINGS ARE WRONG YOU IDIOT. And he’s like “I don’t think you’d really be happy as a rich man’s wife! Let’s go to another big city and gamble there!”
Then, out of nowhere, Josiah turns up while they’re camping in the woods. He thinks, of course, that Eden has been running a con job on him, and he asks where Jack is—and Jack has absconded with all the money from the poker game! That cad. They chase after him, and Jack is all “I was going to give the money back! Double promise pinky swear honest!” and Josiah takes it, and then Eden just starts screaming at everyone, every which way. She tells her father he’s a gambling fool, and she tells Josiah that she doesn’t actually like knitting and baking pies like the other girls told her to do, and tells them both to go screw off. Then Josiah tells her he didn’t care, he loves her the way she is, and they agree to get married anyway.
The (terrible) end.
Rating: D. The only thing keeping me from giving this a flat F was that it wasn’t totally unredeemable. It was competently written (mostly), and the basis of the plot is interesting. Unfortunately, the characters are either totally wooden or are clearly shown to be sympathetic but have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Every character sucks at different times in different ways. I figure I’ll make my way through the rest of these books, but I foresee equally terrible outcomes. I can’t even remember why I liked these books so much as a teenager and why they occupied such an enormous part of my imagination.