I loved the unique American historical setting and the factual references to the monumental work that went into building rail system across the Sierra’s, but as a romance this story didn’t work quite as well for me. The Iron Horse King is loosely based on the actual Charles Crocker, a rich mogul who began life poor and selling oranges to help feed his family than grew up to accomplish the unthinkable – he built the Central Pacific rail in the mid 1800s across the treacherous Sierra Nevada mountains and linked the western Pacific rail line with the Eastern rail line. People called him a fool for trying, and he risked all that he had to buKild the rail despite having nothing more than a 9th grade (or so) education level.
Jacob Ramsey is in Sacramento on a stop to pick up supplies and additional workers when he meets the beautiful and proper suffragette Mary Rose and her friend Lucy. Desperate the find her missing brother who started work for Jacob months earlier, she realizes he must have left the hard laborious work of building the rail and is most likely now panning for gold. When Jacob refuses to allow her to join them so she might look for her brother, she disguises herself as a young man and joins the work crew.
Their first meeting had me hopeful of a great romance story as it began with some fun sparks between them. Jacob is a surly man, twice the age of Mary Rose, and he enjoys a good bit of fun.
“What kind of business......ah, yes, I see now what you ladies are about.” An idea dawned that sent a delicious smile stretching across his face. “Did Linda send you two to me? I told her I don’t need that two-woman business…just isn’t my style. Just one pretty girl is all I am looking for. A man needs to give a woman his full attention don’t you think?”
Unfortunately, the romance stalls as we spend a few months in the Sierra with Mary Rose pretending to be Martin, and Jacob seemingly none the wiser. The young lad is a sissy and quickly rejected by the white workers, so she finds herself befriending the Chinese. Jacob remembers what is was like to be young and picked on, so he takes young Martin under his wing for tutelage. To protect Martin from the bullying, Jacob insists he share his small cabin room with him.
When Mary’s secret is finally revealed, Jacob continues to protect her from the other men and she remains staying with him in his cabin. However, nothing really heats up much, but we do realize these two are falling for one another. When the rail is finally finished and these two return to civilization to a grand parade celebration in San Francisco, they realize that Mary Rose is assumed to be his ladybird and her reputation is ruined.
I won’t go into more of the story from there, but it felt as if the author struggled with writing the ending. The dialogue and pacing change from sharp and witty, to stilted and boring. These two end up in a dangerous situation that only an author can write her characters to safety. In real life, they’d be dead! And the few sex scenes were steamy, albeit with some odd conversation and comments that made me snicker (and it wasn’t meant to be funny). And the storyline about the brother takes a backseat and I never understood why the author resolved it the way she did.
But my BIGGEST complaint about this book was the lack of POV from Jacob himself. This story could have been great if we could see the story from his perspective as well. I don’t believe this was just Mary Rose’s story to tell, Jacob could have been a much more interesting character if only we could see inside of his thoughts. We never really know what he is thinking and feeling, and toward the end that was peril for me to accept and forgive his actions. There were many times I asked myself why did he do what he did? He does explain himself in dialogue to Mary Rose, but these explanations comes much later in the book. Too often I wanted to know what he was thinking.
Finally, the ending was a bit pat. Mary Rose flipped flopped on her suffragette beliefs, her ideas on marriage…etc. Jacob’s actions were making little sense to me. Major spoiler: When Jacob finally makes it to Paris to rescue Mary Rose and Lucy from an impending war, he immediately checks himself into a grand hotel instead of taking the final steps to find Mary at her new dress shop. I really wanted to know what he was thinking!! Why wait? It was just one more part of his actions that made me question if he truly ever cared for Mary Rose. If we had some of his POV I might have understood, but without it my adoration for him waned and waned.
In the end this was a pleasant read. I loved the historical setting, especially in the first half when it focused on building the railroad. There were some great moments between Jacob and Mary Rose in the beginning too, but unfortunately the romance never gelled into anything solid. If it had included Jacobs POV and changed up some of stilted dialogue toward the end, it could be a much better story. Since this is an indie book, I should also mention that the writing, editing and formatting were great. She clearly believes in giving the reader the best reading experience and took the time to make sure it was well edited.