This was the second book by author Lisa Henry I’ve read and I can see there is definitely a trend toward stories with moral conflicts and no easy answers. She doesn’t deal with perfect human beings or give us sweet but meaningless love stories. I’m guessing that is why a lot of people are drawn to her work.
Story: The fever that robbed Elijah of his family when he was a child also took his hearing. In a cruel Wild West town teetering on failure due to the mining drying up, he survives on odd jobs and hides an inclination toward masochism and men. Then Grady, a cattle rustler and down on his luck miner, comes to town with his cousins. Torn between wanting to please the doctor who adopted him, his own feelings of inadequacy and self loathing (channeled into a masochistic relationship with a callous saloon owner), and the fear of the hope Grady presents for a different life, Elijah must make choices. Choices that could save him or destroy him.
The writing of Sweetwater is definitely above what is usually found in the M/M genre. There are so many shades of grey that make this a well-conceived story full of depth and pathos. Elijah makes an interesting anti-hero: willingly (even eagerly) going to a brutal relationship nightly as a self loathing prophecy. Grady, meanwhile, is a cattle rustler and destitute miner looking to surive to recognizing immediately what Elijah is – and isn’t. The story is mostly through Elijah’s viewpoint, which is important since his responses are so layered. As well, there are no evil mustache twirling villains – just people doing as people do.
There are several triggers here (rape, masochism, a bit of torture) – this isn’t a sweet but harmless story of love and lust. At turns tragic and gritty, hard hitting and with an un-romanticized view of the old west. Sweetwater is a great read for those who enjoy a nuanced M/M romance. Reviewed from an ARC.