This is a good romance, and I'm glad I read it. I found the heroine, Valinda, very appealing, and she definitely fits the title & series title. She's very sweet and tender-hearted, as well as unafraid to fight for what's right. It's a good feminist coming-of-age plot, in my opinion; the story is about Valinda accepting who she is, finding a way to best make her mark on the world, and discovering that love can be real. Valinda's upbringing in New York City was sheltered, with a controlling father, and she traveled to New Orleans in order to teach the newly freed. In New Orleans, Valinda meets many women of color who manage their own lives, which is somewhat new for her. There's a lot of focus in the book on her friendships with her love interest's sister-in-law and mother, which I really enjoyed. Valinda wants to change the world, and with their guidance, she finds a way to do that.Valinda's love interest, Drake, is also a wonderful character. I loved their banter, and I laughed out loud more than once. They seemed perfect for each other and I believed completely in their happy ending. I thought the conflict between them late in the book was a little contrived. Valinda already knew who Drake was, and that he wasn't the kind of man who would try to control her. But I guess her hesitation to really marry him was understandable, given her upbringing.I have read two other books by Beverly Jenkins, [b:Night Hawk
17131631] and [b:Indigo
1360994], and I enjoyed them both. When I read that she had included queer characters in this book, I was curious to check it out. I usually read historical romance with queer main characters, so it was interesting for me to see characters of this type through the lens of hetero main characters instead. I felt the queer couple's story was both realistic and hopeful; they faced challenges, but so did all the other characters. Racism is a major topic in this book. I learned a lot about how difficult it was for the recently freed, as well as free people of color, to live in the South at this time (1867). There was segregated transportation; it was only lightly touched on in the book, but I was curious enough to read more about it, and learned that there were successful protests of the unfair system around this time. Also, Drake has to fight off a mob of white supremacists at the book's climax, which was very scary to read about. The city feels almost lawless, because people of color can't rely on the authorities to protect them. As a result, there is a strong sense of community, and of people of color and their allies working together to protect and uplift each other. Valinda and Drake are both dedicated to that cause, which is another reason their romance felt so believable to me.CW: Valinda is threatened with sexual violence several times in this book, but she is not assaulted.I look forward to finding out if the rest of the books in this new series focus on characters introduced here. I really liked that the book portrayed Drake's former mistress sympathetically, and I'd be especially interested in reading about her adventures in Mexico. But I'll come along no matter where this series goes next. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Kim Staunton, and her performance was excellent.