Nan Ryan’s latest, Chieftain, features a half-breed Comanche war chief and a free spirit. They meet and fall in love on a reservation (sort of) and run off to be together. While fast-paced, Ryan’s story suffers from a lack of romance, at the very least.
Maggie Bankhead is searching for a purpose in life. She finds it when she moves from her home and everything she knew in Virginia to a reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to teach English to the natives. She is content teaching on the reservation until she sees Shanaco. Shanaco, a half-breed Comanche, has led his people, where they will live out their lives, to the reservation from his home in New Mexico not because he wanted to do so, but because he promised his grandfather on his deathbed. After helping settle his people, Shanaco plans to go back to his life. But his plans are foiled by those men overseeing the fort, most particularly an evil colonel, and he is forceably detained at the fort.
Ryan’s story is fast-paced but has many flaws, chief among them that Shanaco and Maggie don’t get together until too much of the story has occurred. And by that time we’ve already read about his being with another woman in vivid detail. There is also too much focus on secondary characters, at the expense of the romance, which takes too long to build. Instead there is an over-emphasis on a secondary relationship between the loose daughter of the Fort’s nasty colonel and a married captain, and the old “scorned woman cries rape” storyline we read too often in romance novels.
Maggie and Shanaco come to know one another after his arrival at Fort Sill; indeed, she argues that he and his people be allowed to leave, and though they eventually are released, bad feelings between the whites and the Indians remain. Things come to a head when Lois, the loose daughter of the nasty colonel, accuses Shanaco of rape after he rejects her attempt to get him into bed. He is arrested and brutalized, only to be saved by Maggie. Once Shanaco begans to heal they become intimate – in a scene that fills an entire chapter. While they develop strong feelings for one another, her plan to remain at Fort Sill to teach the Indians conflicts with his plan to return home to New Mexico. Given the number of Native Americans in New Mexico, this seems flawed, but there you have it. Since he’s on the hook for rape, the two plan and execute his escape.
Some authors tell their stories using subtlety – Nan Ryan is not one of them. While apparent throughout, this becomes almost ridiculous by the book’s end. I don’t want to give spoilers, but suffice it to say that Good triumphs over Evil and Shanaco and Maggie make a glorious return to the reservation.
Lest you think the book is entirely bad, let me mention that Maggie is more fleshed-out than many of the other characters, who were flat in their representation. The love scenes are intense and quite hot, and I managed to read Chieftain in one sitting. But the author squandered her setting, and the lack of romance and over-the-top aspects of the story ruined any good feelings I had about the book.