OK, so, it’s a romance novel. And yes, it’s an inspirational romance novel. For a lot of readers, those two things will throw up barriers before they even pick up the book. For me, the deciding factor was that it’s an inspirational romance written by Brenda Coulter, who writes (though not nearly enough, lately) the funny and insightful writing blog No Rules, Just Write.
I think it’s important to be aware of genre when you pick up a book. If you start reading a romance novel and then begin complaining because the set-up between hero and heroine is so obvious, the obstacles separating them so flimsy, and the descriptions of both so stereotypically romantic — well, that’s like complaining, “Every time I read one of these darned murder mysteries, somebody gets killed!!” Every genre has its conventions and if you don’t like them, don’t read that genre.
If you do read that genre, then the question is: how well does this author work within the genre’s conventions? And in the case of Brenda Coulter, the answer is: very well.
At His Command is the story of Jake, a former US army helicopter pilot, now injured and beginning a new life as a lawyer. He’s deeply attracted to Maddie, a pretty Army nurse who’s outwardly chipper but inwardly feels like a failure because she couldn’t cut it in a combat hospital. But Jake feels responsible for the death of Maddie’s older brother, his friend and comrade-in-arms, and feels that he himself is too damaged a person to get close to her.
It’s all very conventional stuff, but the characters are likable and well-drawn, and the setting so well realized I fully believed these people lived in a completely developed world with things going on behind the scenes that I never got to see. At His Command was thoroughly enjoyable and the writing was strong and competent; it never got in the way of the story.
There was one other barrier for me with this book: as with a lot of inspirational fiction, the slant is pretty US-conservative and assumes that the reader will agree that soldiers fighting in Iraq are heroes battling in the cause of freedom. However, you don’t have to agree with the author’s political views or with George W. Bush’s policies in Iraq to appreciate the fact that, whatever the politics behind it, the men and women at the front in any war go through a hellish experience and come back traumatized. A little inspiration, and a little romance, may be just what they need, so two thumbs up for this inspirational romance.