I just finished Karen Witemeyer’s newest release: At Love’s Command. It is book one in her new Hanger’s Horsemen series.
This book opens with a very intense scene. Matthew Hanger is a member of the US Cavalry assigned to confiscate weapons from the Nez Perce tribe at Wounded Knee. Yes - that wounded knee. Even though you know the tragedy soon to unfold, Witemeyer writes it in such a way that you feel you’ve never heard the story before. And in some ways, I don’t think I ever really did until I read this book. After reading the way she described the massacre at Wounded Knee, I went and looked it up myself. I found legitimate sources - The Encyclopedia Britannica and a scholarly book published by a historian who did her dissertation on Wounded Knee. (I’m a nerd like that.) What I discovered is that Witemeyer gave a pretty historically accurate portrayal of the massacre. However, Matt is knocked unconscious and that fact, combined with Witemeyer’s delicate handling of the material, means it isn’t graphic or disturbing. It is, however, still tragic and incredibly sad. This is important because the event is Matthew Hanger’s motivation for the rest of the novel.
Several years later, we find Matt as the leader of what has come to be known as the Hanger’s Horsemen. It’s four men: Matt, Luke (whom everyone calls Preach), Jonas, and Mark. Preach and Jonas were with Matt at Wounded Knee. They formed the Horsemen to try and atone for their sins at Wounded Knee. (Even though we find out that the three of them testified against the US army before congress and refused their medals of honor). Jonas is a black man who was a member of the Buffalo Soldiers, a black cavalry of the US Army sent as “peacekeepers” to the Native Americans. I learned that some of them were, in fact, at Wounded Knee! I don’t know much about the Buffalo Soldiers, but I want to. Therefore, I hope Jonas is the main focus of a future book. There was also something in the novel about his father’s watch and how important it was to him, so I feel that was a set up for a future story maybe
But back to Matt and the Horsemen . . . Hanger’s Horsemen are hired by those who are facing injustice. In other words, they come to the aid of the weak being oppressed by the strong. They fight by a code, one of them being that they will not kill. They will only shoot in defense, and even then only non-fatal wounds. During one job, Mark, their young new recruit, gets shot and severely injured. Matt rushes him to the nearest doctor: Joe Burkett. Turns out, though that it’s Dr. Josephine Burkett - a woman.
Matt and Josephine have each vowed to use their lives in service of others, realizing that it most likely means never marrying. But almost as soon as they meet, their hearts begin to long for more. They manage to keep their walls up, knowing they will part ways as soon as Mark is on the mend. However, Josephine ends up needing the services of the Horsemen, and that forces her and Matthew to wrestle with their feelings for one another.
Naturally, I don’t want to give anything else away! The rest of the novel is as action packed as you would expect a western to be. The romance is also well done, with two well rounded, complex characters. Matt believes himself to be unworthy of any woman’s love, least of all Josephine’s, because of the things he has seen and done. The theme of atonement is a big one in the story as Matt wrestles with the realization all Christians face: we can never fully atone for our sins on our own. And Josephine must face her prejudices towards men whom she judges for “living by the sword.”
I love that for the first time a Witemeyer novel features the male lead on the cover. And not just because it’s a swoon-worthy picture! Matthew Hanger is the true main character of this story, and he might just be my favorite hero that Witemeyer has created. Strong, yet tender; masculine yet supportive of Josephine’s ambitions; a man of few words, yet full of conviction. What woman wouldn’t fall for this guy? However, he isn’t perfect. He wrestles with demons from his past (what we would now call PTSD), and confesses that hatred motivated him to join the army in the first place. It’s overall a beautiful story of a man’s redemption. Not because of a woman’s love but because of God’s love.
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.