Title: On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch
Author: Shelter Somerset
Cover artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Amazon: Buy Link On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch
Genre: Historical romance
Length: Novel/320 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: very well researched historical with overall likeable if a somewhat stereotypical couple for mm romances, which I liked.
It’s 1886, and Chicago is booming, but for nineteen-year-old Torsten Pilkvist, American-born son of Swedish immigrants, it’s not big enough. After tragically losing a rare love, Tory immerses himself in the pages of a Wild West mail-order bride magazine, where he stumbles on the advertisement of frontiersman and Civil War veteran Franklin Ausmus. Torsten and Franklin begin an innocent correspondence—or as innocent as it can be, considering Torsten keeps his true gender hidden. But when his parents discover the letters, Tory is forced out on his own. With nowhere else to go, he boards a train for the Black Hills and Franklin’s homestead, Moonlight Gulch.
Franklin figures Tory for a drifter, but he’s lonely after ten years of living in the backcountry alone, and his “girl” in Chicago has mysteriously stopped writing, so he hires Tory on as his ranch hand. Franklin and Tory grow closer while defending the land from outlaws who want the untapped gold in Franklin’s creek, but then Franklin learns Tory’s true identity and banishes Tory from his sight. Will their lives be forever tattered, or will Torsten—overhearing a desperate last-ditch scheme to snatch Franklin’s gold—be able to save Moonlight Gulch and his final shot at love?
Review: My favorite historical settings are the ones which transport me to another time and another place and I do not experience anything that throws me out of that time and space. In this sense the book surely did its job – I thought the research was wonderful. I checked some basics – Chicago’s population in the 1886, some dishes which Tory’s family cooks, words from the lexicon of the Indian character in the story, everything that I checked seemed to be correct, but honestly the writer just managed to make me trust in her research. It felt believable; as always I cannot guarantee that the finer details are correct, but it was written with a very confident hand. I also really liked the writing style, which seemed to have just enough of the historical flavor, but still very pleasant and easy going.
Let’s talk about the story now, because the blurb seems to leave very few spoilers out anyway. I thought the idea about how they met was at the very least not overused and honestly off the top of my head I cannot remember a mm story which uses this exact plot turn. Of course the idea about protagonists falling in love by mail is nothing new and I would guess that in het romances there is a trope when the woman may pretend to be a man, but as I said for mm I thought it was pretty original. Tory’s character is established pretty well before he and Franklin start exchanging letters and he decides to pretend to be a girl. The blurb mentions him losing a rare love before it all starts. Well, I will not be telling you spoilers, do not worry, but I will tell you this – that the rare love was really REALLY instant, like very Instant!Love. Surprisingly, it worked for me very well, but if Tory was a different character, I would have rolled my eyes and rolled my eyes a lot. However for a idealistic young man of 19 years of age in the year 1886, who goes around quoting Walt Whitman, yes this was one of the rare occasions when such love worked for me to establish who Tory was. But again take heed, even for me, in most circumstances this variety of Insta!Love would have been laughable. I guess I looked at it more like a crush, and I guess Tory and myself differ on that :). Honestly I was glad when it ended.
I did like Tory quite a lot overall and I found him and Franklin establishing a connection and fondness for each other in the letters to be believable. See I am usually very attracted to somebody who can maintain good conversation or who can write well and have no problem imagining that two people may even fell in love without seeing each other first, but again, of course this is first and foremost romantic idea, so if you can not swallow it, this book probably is not for you. I did believe in their connection, although I had to sigh once again at the fact that so many mm romances contain a wide eyed innocent and a hardened much older guy. I reminded myself however of the fact that I have read so many stories with that type of couple should not interfere with me trying to evaluate this individual book and in this book these guys together overall worked for me. Tory may be a young wide eyed innocent in many aspects, but he is surely smart enough and tough enough not to be a damsel in distress and be able to save people sometimes too.
Franklin is just very likeable guy, who lived through enough and has seen so much and all he wants to do is to be left alone and to find somebody to spend his life with. I liked him a lot, but there were couple of things he did that just threw me off a bit. First of all their first love making scene was just a serious “what the heck, where did it come from?” moment. It felt very out of character and came out of nowhere for me. I certainly did not mind Franklin getting angry when he learned about Tory’s true identity, that felt very believable and very understandable for me. I liked that Franklin is established as bisexual, without saying that word (not a spoiler, because in the blurb we hear that he corresponds with Tory as a woman first), but at the same time I was annoyed that the author just had to give a nod to the Gay For You trope in its historical variety. I am not going to tell you how she did that, but this threw me off a bit. I felt that prior to that conversation his sexuality felt much more believable and there was no need to have that conversation with somebody.
I liked how the action part of the storyline was done, I thought the author maintained the tension very well and the villain’s motivations were very believable for me.
I thought that the secondary characters were extremely well done and some of them were even very flawed and still likeable. For example I extremely disliked something that Franklin’s friend Wikasha did at some point of his past, but still liked him overall.
Recommended and I really like the cover.