Review: Dona Nobis Pacem by Willa Okati

Mute saloonkeeper Donnell knows all about prejudice; he’s had to battle it all of his life. He also knows how self-righteous and judgemental the people of the old west town of Nazareth can be, so he isn’t surprised when he sees them spurn requests for work from a man who walks into town looking to be all but on his death bed. Donnell takes the man in and nurses him back to health, falling in love along the way.  But is Donnell destined to have his heart broken?

Review by Jess Faraday

I feel badly that my first review for Speak Its Name is going to be largely critical. However, not all books were written for all readers. Even though the story didn’t work for me on a number of levels, there’s quite a bit in Dona Nobis Pacem to like. I’m certain that there are readers who will enjoy the story for its merits. Here are a few of them.

I’ve read a few other stories by Willa Okati, and the sex is always hot. It’s graphic, but not to the point where one is counting the pores on the hero’s…er…chin. So if you like some hot, well-described man-on-man nookie, you’ll find three very tasty scenes to sink your teeth into.

I also liked Nathan’s (the hero’s love interest) inner conflict regarding his attraction to Donnell. It seemed realistic given the time, place, and Nathan’s religious background. Although I thought this could have been drawn out and explored more, considering the brevity of the piece (100 pages and change), the amount of time spent on it was appropriate.

There’s a difference between historical romance and romance with historical flavor. SIN reviews historicals, so I read from this perspective. As historical fiction, this story really didn’t work for me. The main difference between a contemporary and a historical is setting, and the setting in this story was basically undefined.

References to a gold rush suggest that the story is taking place in the 19th century. Vague descriptions of a desert-like climate suggest that it was the California gold rush of 1848 (although the gold rush did not take place in the desert part of California), or possibly the Northern Nevada gold rush. But however one slices it, there was not enough physical, social, or cultural description for me to feel any certainty of time or place.

A few character inconsistencies also distracted me from the story. The hero, Donnell, seemed far too cosmopolitan for his circumstances. For an orphaned son of a prostitute in a one-horse town, he knew an awful lot about the world, including what color the Jamaican sea was, the weather in Texas, what blizzards were like (hint: blizzards do not take place in, or anywhere near deserts) and the works of Tchaikovsky (who would have been a child during the California gold rush) and Rachmaninoff (who wouldn’t be born for another 20-odd years). He also had a magnificent vocabulary, which, despite being mute, he managed to express flawlessly through gesture.

Moreover, in the beginning, it was stated that only Donnell’s adoptive mother knew about his proclivities–entirely believable for the time and place–but by the end of a month, this tough, old-West town had become remarkably OK HOMO.

As a light romance, the story fares somewhat better. Dona Nobis Pacem is a classic hurt/comfort tale: a story in which the plot consists almost entirely of one character nursing another through a Grave Crisis. Although the crisis was drawn out a lot longer than was realistic (one does not require a month–need I say it, in bed–to recover from heatstroke), H/C lovers may enjoy the plot. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to the plot than that. There is some attempt at external conflict with a wild-eyed preacher bent on taking Donnell’s land and claiming Nathan’s soul By Any Means Necessary. However, this conflict isn’t developed, and is dropped altogether without explanation in the last third of the book.

I would recommend this story for someone looking for a quick read, some hot sex, and a happy ending. But if you’re in the mood for a complex plot or a well-researched historical, this probably isn’t the book for you. 2.5 stars.

Buy from Torquere Press

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