Claiming Mariah (Tyndale House Publishers) by Pam Hillman has all the exciting elements of a great western: ranching, cattle rustling, stubborn cowboys, independent women, betrayal, misunderstanding, and romance. Set against the backdrop of a small town in Wyoming Territory, Claiming Mariah follows the story of Mariah Malone as she copes with the legacy her father has left her – one of a failing ranch and dependent loved ones.
One spring day, brothers Slade and Buck Donovan ride up to announce that they are the rightful owners of Mariah’s cattle ranch. They produce a deed and claim that her deceased father, Seth Malone, cheated their father out of a fortune from a gold mine. He proceeded to shoot their pa, run away, and to buy the ranch where Mariah grew up. The Donovans claim that their father survived but never overcame a severe drinking problem, causing Slade, the oldest of the Donovan children, to take responsibility for his brother, sisters, and mother at a very young age. This has left Slade with a distrusting and slightly bitter attitude toward the Malones.
Mariah reluctantly signs over the ranch to the Donovans while keeping the unpleasant news about her father’s theft a secret to the town. She agrees to stay on in the ranch house with her grandmother to cook and clean until the rest of the Donovan family arrives. Slade discovers that the ranch has lost money since Seth Malone died. Unknown to him, a group of cattle rustlers have taken advantage of unsuspecting Mariah. In addition, Mariah is faced with a tolerable – though possessive – suitor, Frederick Cooper, who insists on marrying her. She is reluctant to do so, partially due to her eventual departure from the ranch to go live in Philadelphia to be near her sister. Through all of these circumstances, Slade and Mariah are drawn together by a subtle attraction.
Hillman’s style is smooth and fluid, drawing the reader in to the story from the beginning. The reader is privilege to both Slade and Mariah’s perspective. This amplifies the tension between them and enlightens the reader to suspicions of cattle rustling activity. The setting communicates a snapshot of small town life in the western frontier, complete with a loving, welcoming community and friendly neighbors.
The novel explores the themes of forgiveness and the mercy of God. It also models human nature’s stubborn tendencies to hold grudges and reluctantly forgive. Through the course of the novel, the characters see that God truly cares for each of His children. Slade Donovan had hardened his heart toward God as his own father became more neglectful. He begins to change his mind, however, as the people around him prove trustworthy and model the love of Christ. Both Mariah and Slade see that God sometimes brings people through difficult times to increase their dependence on Him, for He is always trustworthy.
Pam Hillman has authored a compelling novel depicting the struggles and successes of frontier life during the late 1800s. The characters are very realistic, with unique faults and endearing traits. While the novel is mainly a drama and love story, Pam successfully weaves a thread of faith and forgiveness throughout, making it a tale of encouragement and triumph.
My favorite quote from the book: “God doesn’t keep us from trouble; He keeps us through it” –Claiming Mariah by Pam Hillman
eBook version available now, print version releases 2/1/14
Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.