Looking for a big, fat family saga set in Old California? Well then look no further; this is one of the best I’ve found yet. The Proud Breed begins in the 1840’s as Tessa McCloud prepares for her sixteenth birthday. Great granddaughter of Don Esteban, one of the original Californio ranchero families, she has been “sold” by her father to the very evil Don Luis to pay off his gambling debts. Looking for a final respite before meeting her fate at the hand of Luis, Tessa goes to her favorite spot on the ranch and while swimming in the buff she is spotted by Yankee Gavin Ramsey who mistakes her for a servant girl and assumes she’s fair game for the taking. Tessa attacks Gavin with her knife, but then nurses him back to health when she realizes he’s been sent with a message and birthday gift from her great-grandfather. Love blooms, but the couple must find a way to escape her engagement to Luis and repay her father’s gambling debts.
Once wed, Tessa and Gavin begin their lives and build their fortune in Monterey, the capitol of Old California, along with Gavin’s partner, Indian. The old ways of the original California rancheros are threatened by an indifferent Mexican government and an influx of American settlers anxious to take control. As their business enterprises continue to grow and California reaches statehood Tessa and Gavin’s marriage is threatened by jealousy, treachery, bigotry, adultery and the horrific acts committed by the revenge minded Don Luis — yet they survive it all to build a family dynasty in the new State of California.
De Blasis does an incredible job of taking the reader on a grand ride through California’s history — from the now dying ways of the Californio Rancheros, old Monterey, the gold camps, lawless San Francisco with it’s fires and the vigilantes, through the Civil War to the turn of the century and more as Tessa and Gavin’s marriage withstands the tests of time and their dynasty is eventually passed on to their children. Peopled with memorable characters and abundant historical facts this was a highly enjoyable tale about a very strong willed woman and the man she loved until death did they part that will have you reading well into the wee hours of the morning. I did find the way the author worked Gavin and Indian into the Civil War to be a bit of a stretch, but other than that a near perfect read for me, and a highly enjoyable way to learn more about a fascinating period in U.S. history. Readers might find the last 100 or so pages are a tad bit slow at times, but well worth it for a very very bittersweet epilogue as the Ramsay family rings in the new century at the end of 1899 – have the tissue handy. 4.5/5 stars and highly recommended.