A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Fall From Grace by Megan Chance

on June 15, 2022

CW for book: off-page seduction of an adolescent girl, who grows up to marry the rapist’s son. Violence, injury and murder. Captivity.

The theme: After the war

Why this one: I started it last month and finally finished it.

So, I DNF’d Prairie Moon for being set in the post-Civil War South, but I finished this one, also set in the post-Civil War South. Why? I’m not exactly sure, because I was definitely slogging at first and I found it a very rough read overall. Megan Chance is particularly good at complex characters and situations, though, so I guess I hoped I’d be rewarded. I guess I was?

An important point for the book is that it doesn’t glorify the Southern side. (To be fair, I don’t know that Prairie Moon did. What I saw when I skimmed was basically talk about “very fine people on both sides.” Nope.) The one character who does glorify it is Josie, a naive young woman who’s been brought up to idealize her outlaw family for stickin’ it to the Yankee Man. The truth, that her father, brother, and sister-in-law are all ruthless thieves and murderers gradually becomes clear to her.

No, Josie isn’t our main character. Two of the aforementioned thieves and murderers are.

The story begins with Texas Sharpe in pursuit of his errant wife. A job went bad, he got shot, his father and another member of the Sharpe gang are in jail, and it’s all because someone squealed–most probably Lily. When he finds her, she’s overjoyed to learn he’s still alive. Or is she?

No wait, that’s not really where the story begins. It’s with the murder of Lily’s Yankee parents during a stagecoach robbery. Feeling delicate about killing young Lily, the gang takes her home to their leader Hank, a fascinating portrayal of monstrous egoism and ruthlessness clothed in piety. Lily literally sings for her life and Hank decides to keep her. And use her.

There couldn’t be more contrast between Lily and Hank’s daughter Josie, who was protected from knowing the truth about her family and destined for a respectable marriage. And it naturally galls her:

“Just tell me something, Texas,” she said, and the pain from yesterday came back, the bitterness she’d felt whenever she looked at Josie and Hank together, only know she understood it. Now she could put words to it. “Tell me why. Why did Hank decided to make me an outlaw? What did he see in me? He could have made me into Josie. Why–why did he make me this instead?”

Instead of a cherished daughter, Hank made Lily part of the gang, asserted his power by having sex with her when she was twelve and then breaking her heart (all very deliberately, when his son Texas expressed a liking for her,) and molded her into a ruthless outlaw. Lily yearns to escape what she’s become, and when she first runs away, it’s towards a dream of a normal life. But she comes to believe that for someone with her terrible past, it could never be more than a dream.

I tend to love books in which two scoundrels wind up together, having to fight against their bad instincts and trust issues — Crooked Hearts by Patricia Gaffney is a great example — but this is much bleaker than usual. The stakes are particularly high: everyone’s lives are genuinely in danger, and no one can really be trusted. Except… no matter what, Travis truly loves Lily, and can’t seem to stop.

Though Lily had the benefit of a loving family as a child, that foundation didn’t stay with her. She has no idea how to love, or even how to recognize love, until it’s almost too late. Texas feels equally warped, equally loathsome for his crimes, but he does know how to love. (Maybe having a mother and sister living outside the gang helped.) It’s a very hard road for these two, and they just barely get there — so just barely, some find it hard to consider this a romance. Perhaps there’s no way they could have a standard romance, but they do find something. And that makes the book ultimately rather beautiful, in its way.

7 responses to “TBR Challenge: Fall From Grace by Megan Chance

  1. azteclady says:

    huh…I thought I has replied?

    I don’t think I could have gotten past the fact that Lily is sexually abused as a child, trained to be a criminal, then handed over to the son to be sexually used, whether dressed as marriage or not.

  2. whiskeyinthejar says:

    Holy cow, this sounds, I don’t even know, lol, I’m speechless at the complexities going on. I’ve got to find this book.
    I mean, asserted his power by having sex with her when she was twelve and then breaking her heart (all very deliberately, when his son Texas expressed a liking for her,) and But she comes to believe that for someone with her terrible past, it could never be more than a dream.
    Lily sounds like the type of heroine that ends up making me want to write dissertations on. Gah, this sounds heartbreaking, enraging, and every other emotion.

    Crooked Hearts has been on my tbr for years! I’m going to have to make it show up in next year’s challenge.

    • willaful says:

      Oh, _Crooked Hearts_ is so much fun!

      This is at Open Library, and if that doesn’t work for you, I could mail you my paperback. I *think* I would want it back? Ha!

      • whiskeyinthejar says:

        Oh my gosh, that is such a generous offer but I raced over to Amazon after reading your review and it’s actually on Kindle and only $4. I skimmed a couple reviews and I don’t think the author changed anything from the original, so I’m going to probably get it on there.
        I know it’s not the author’s fault when they don’t have Kindle versions of these older books, but oh the relief of not have to become Indiana Jones to then find them.

  3. willaful says:

    That’s a nice surprise! I just assumed it was OOP.

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