Review: Bounty of the Heart by JM Snyder

Bounty of the HeartFor seven years, Emmett Ward has harbored amorous feelings toward his partner, Jack Robison. A chance encounter brought them together—Emmett slaved in an illegal warehouse run by a Korean criminal known as the Dragon Lady, when Jack, a notorious bounty hunter with his sights set on her son Lin Ji, was captured. Emmett helped Jack escape in return for his own freedom. They’ve been together ever since, but Emmett aches for so much more than their platonic partnership.

A new bounty has been placed on Lin Ji’s head, sending Emmett and Jack to the wilds of Alaska, where they hope to take out the crime lord during an annual dog-sled race. As they near their target, they run into Monty Becker, another hunter Jack used to know. He takes an interest in Emmett, who is drawn to the sexy, charismatic fellow despite Jack’s warnings.

Emmett is torn between the two men—Monty is more than willing to show him what he’s missing, but Jack is what his heart wants. When the three team up to take out Lin, Emmett learns more of the past Jack and Monty share, and discovers just why his partner has ignored his obvious feelings for so long…

Review by Hayden Thorne

I took on this novella, intrigued by the non-romantic premise despite my initial reservations regarding the main romantic conflict, which is really pretty standard in romance: the hardened man with a painful past, unwilling to open his heart to a lovestruck, young, wide-eyed thing who pines away endlessly. The setting, being in Alaska, added to the allure of the novella, as I really haven’t read anything that takes place there.

Unfortunately, there’s really not much for me to hold on to in this story. Yes, we’re shown through vague references that it’s the 19th century, but a lot of the character interactions – and the fact that the era isn’t really grounded solidly on dates or events – have a stronger contemporary, not historical, feel to them. With the dog sled race playing a vital role in the story, I had the impression that the novella actually takes place in the early 1900s, not the 19th century, because it’s my understanding that mushing races in Alaska – at least the big ones that drew the kind of large, excited crowds described in the novella – didn’t happen till then.

The descriptions, however, are wonderful, especially those involving Emmett’s past hardships as a slave and the little town of Aliak*, with the spectators of the dog sled race and Lin Ji’s pavilion. The romance isn’t sexually explicit and in fact has a nice sweetness to it. Even Monty’s initial attempts at seduction are teasing, and Emmett’s fantasies are innocent. These instances are great examples of evoking so much with very little, so that they give off a quiet kind of eroticism that I appreciate.

But despite that, there seems to be a disconnection, with the romance being one entity and the rest of the story being another, without any smoothing over of relationships between the two. There’s a lot of making eyes, hopeful touches, a near rape, and an awkwardly placed conversation between Monty and Jack regarding Emmett and his unrequited love for Jack, i.e., an exchange that takes place during what should be a nerve-wracking moment before their attack on Lin Ji. When the stakes are high, and a bounty hunter’s after a dangerous criminal, I’d imagine that an argument over a young man’s unhappy love would be far, far removed from their minds as they prepare for a showdown.

The characters are also archetypes: the brooding, distant love interest, the wide-eyed innocent, and the slimy encroacher. There’s nothing that makes them unique, and in fact, I find myself baffled by Monty’s characterization. For someone who’s betrayed and continues to betray, suspension of disbelief can be a little difficult to do when he does a complete turnaround after being caught doing something that’s always been his nature. Yep, even with the threat of death hanging over his head – considering how much he sneered at that prospect up until that point, his reversal feels a touch too convenient to be convincing.

There’s really not much said about Lin Ji and his operation except through flashbacks, so that when the climax comes around, I felt a certain detachment from all the shootings and rising body count. It’s a real shame as the criminal element was one of the highlights of the story and a great foil to the quieter love story that’s unfolding. The way the criminals and Monty were removed from the scene also seemed rushed and unsatisfyingly resolved, as though they were simply pushed out of the picture because they no longer served a purpose.

There’s certainly enough wonderful material in this novella for a longer work of fiction, and I wish that Snyder pursued it. Alaska has a fantastic history, and the days of the gold rush would’ve been fertile ground for a great adventure and love story. As it stands, though, the novella’s unevenly developed, and with the romantic conflict being a pretty common one, it could’ve been given something a little extra to make it stand out from the rest of M/M romances that explore the same theme. The historical angle would’ve helped, but with it being nothing more than backdrop, it does what could’ve been a better-developed plot very little good.

The end result is a story with a tender enough romance but no surprises and a curiously disjointed relationship with its historical setting.

* I tried to search for Aliak, Alaska, and I found Aniak instead, which didn’t enjoy any kind of real development till the early 1900s as a result of the Alaskan gold rush.

Buy the e-book: Amber Allure

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