Autumn Sage is the second novel in Genevieve Turner’s Las Morenas series. The books are set in the late 1890’s California, at a time where old Spanish & Mexican Californian families are losing power to new American settlers in the area. Traditions & communities are changing, and Anglos, Blacks and Latinos are not living in harmony.
Autumn Sage is the story of Isabel Moreno. Isabel had her life all planned out, she had picked out a compatible good man for a fiancé, and together they had rationally planned out a future. Isabel and Joaquin had dreamed of leaving the confines of their small insular ranching community in Cabrillo for the growing city of Los Angeles. But all those plans are shattered when they are ambushed by a trio of outlaws. Sheriff Obregon, fearing he will never recover ends their engagement, and Isabel is left to face the unceasing questions from friends, family and law enforcement about their ordeal alone. Marshal Sebastian Spenser has been sent to track down the outlaw, and bringing him to Los Angeles for trial. He needs the details Isabel has not shared with anyone in order to get bring McCade in. Isabel mistrusts everything about him and she is right to, he is not all what he seems to be.
This is was a heavy book to read, both the hero and heroine have marked by violence. Isabel is terrorized by thoughts of her attacker coming back to finish the job, terrified of losing her future to that awful moment. She is victimized again and again by the curious community and failed by the justice system. Sebastian was terrorized by his racist abusive father, and he is terrified of becoming a man of violence like his father. Both their mothers, Sra. Moreno and Sra. Vasquez de Espenser we learn are of survivors of racially driven domestic violence. They reacted and responded very differently to similar situations, and I appreciated that Turner presented both their life choices and lives without judging one response better than another.
I really enjoyed the book but I think it had some pacing issues. The romance stretches over year, but the book slowed down the pacing considerably while Sebastian and Isabel were in LA for the trial. I enjoyed the lighter moments of banter Sebastian and Isabel shared, their halting flirtations, and conversations over books that contrasted so strongly with their public interactions. However the pace of the action after the verdict picked up in jarring way. It might have been an intentional choice to rush along the action in Cabrillo, to mirror Isabel’s panic and Sebastian’s confusion during the second hunt for McCade, but it made it hard to follow all the different things that were happening post climax. Thankfully the letters late in the book allowed Turner to build back the romance between Sebastian and Isabel in an efficient manner as the end of book neared.
The letters established a solid foundation to their relationship to something more lasting than passion awakened under stress. The letters allowed the reader to see emotional growth in Sebastian, so I could trust that he would not continually treat Isabel to a cycle of passion-rejection as he had in Los Angeles and I could believe in their HEA.
I felt that on the whole Autumn Sage was successful as romance, highly engaging as another installment in the Moreno family saga and a fascinating and nuanced portrayal of a changing community, presenting the many conflict points between old and new California at the end of the 18th century.
I received a review copy of Autumn Sage from Penny Bright Publishing via NetGalley.