GENRE: Historical Romance
RATING: Four stars
Jae is one of those writers that I kept hearing about, especially given how active she has been, working to become a fairly prolific writer in the world of "lesfic" by producing a huge number of books as well as being an editor for YLVA. As such, I thought it was time I finally read something of hers. I must admit to not having been a huge fan of Radclyffe despite all of the hype surrounding her (and that's a shaky limb to stand on, really, because it almost seems blasphemous to not love everything Radclyffe writes), but with Jae, I can certainly see why her work is so popular. (As a side note... it's not that I don't appreciate Rad's work, but I don't personally feel the need to read any more of her books after having read two of them. Everyone has their preferences, right?)
Backwards to Oregon is a well-researched historical fiction, though the research was focused on geography more so than the history of the era. Don't get me wrong, the historical context is handled well, but if you're looking for the level of social and political depth you might find in a Sarah Waters novel, this isn't what you'll find here. That said, the aspects of this world Jae has engaged with makes it all quite convincing. Her depth about the nature of Oregon Trail itself and how people had to navigate the various challenges along the trail makes it quite an immersive novel.
It's great to read books with characters who aren't strictly 'binary' lesbians, with Luke existing somewhere undefined on the gender spectrum and Nora perhaps being (though labels aren't ever applied - which is AWESOME) bisexual, or at least very fluid in her understanding of her own body and desires. Luke is not established as being entirely trans, but nor is she strictly 'female' in her gender identity, preferring to live her life within the safety and comfort that being a man offered her at that time in America's colonial history.
Luke and Nora are enjoyable characters overall. Both of them experience a very clear line of personal growth, questioning their own perceptions and choices in the face of various types of adversity. At times, though, I found aspects of their personal transformations a little bit forced. This was especially true towards the end where Nora's insecurities started to feel unreasonable to me given what had already taken place, and given Luke's HUGE leap in sharing her true sex with some of the people around her. But take that with a grain of salt, given that I picked this book up for the genre elements (I love historical fiction) as well as the Twelfth Night-esque story line of Luke's hidden sexual identity, rather than for the angsty romance. Reader expectations and interests are impossible to cater for, as every reader is so different. If you liked Lise MacTague's trilogy, think of this book as having a similar story-line, swapping the sci-fi elements for old Western nostalgia. That's a good thing, by the way.
This is the ultimate in 'slow burn' genre romance, and that's probably exactly what many readers want. For me personally, some aspects were too slow. It felt, at times, like every part of the journey to Oregon was "the hardest" or "the worst" part of the journey. I also skipped a few pages due to reading what felt like extensive and repetitive detail about how the wagons were moved up and down steep hills and across bodies of water. I love descriptions of nature, but the repetition of some sections felt unnecessary and I didn't think it added much to the story in the last thirty percent of the book. This was a minor point overall, and didn't detract much from my enjoyment.
This was, overall, a well-executed story that kept me coming back to my Kindle when I should have been getting some work done or maybe even been, you know, parenting my children. There are a lot of writers I want to discover, a lot of stories I want to read, so it's definitely a huge compliment to the author that I'm interested to read some more of what Jae has published.
You can purchase an e-copy here.