Of all the romance sub-genres, the one that instills in me both anticipation and dread is the historical Native American romance. Native American men are some of my favorite heroes, but if the story is to come across as realistic, then it most likely contains some gritty elements that make me uncomfortable, history and racial relations being what they were. I tend to favor less realism in my romantic fantasies of this particular flavor, and thought I’d best make that disclaimer before launching into my review of Hannah’s Half-Breed by Heidi Betts. (Hate the title, by the way.)
This is apparently a sequel to Walker’s Widow, Betts’ telling of the romance between the widow and the lawman who married and adopted this story’s hero. David Walker is half-white, half-Comanche, and grew up in an orphanage in Purgatory, Texas. There he attached himself to the younger Hannah Blake, protecting her from the teasing of other kids and calming her whenever nightmares intruded. He’d been adopted by the town’s sheriff and his new wife and even spent time with his mother’s Comanche family, but stayed in touch with Hannah till he recognized, and feared to pursue, his true feelings for her. When the story begins, Hannah and David have not seen each other (well, sort of) for ten years. He comes wounded to her cabin with his nephew, intending to leave seven-year-old Little Bear in her care while he goes back to retrieve his sister from Little Bear’s abusive father.
There are a number of things that make this a difficult book to grade, despite the fact that it’s an easy read that seems to flow well. First of all, there isn’t much of a story here, really. David, Hannah and Little Bear go after David’s sister, Bright Eyes, hide out a while so she can recuperate (and have a baby), and eventually return to Purgatory. Secondary characters are pretty much kept secondary, as most of the scenes focus on the interactions between Hannah and David. Also, there are scenarios that are contrived and not very realistic. For example, while some of Purgatory’s inhabitants might conceivably accept David, having every person he encounters embrace him is a stretch. And some of the dialogue – along the lines of “she is being abused” – as opposed to “he beats her” – is anachronistic. An episode in a robbers/murderers haven called Hell was a particular stretch, given the ease with which they found lodging that, albeit supposedly vermin-infested, possessed bed, stove, etc., and invited no unwanted contact with the town’s other denizens. Having to take shelter in one of the upstairs rooms at the brothel seemed very far-fetched as well, although I can’t really quibble with the scene it inspired.
And unfortunately, I found the finale of Hannah and David’s story to be a bit cheesy for my taste. Probably the biggest flaw was the overkill on David’s whole “half-breed with white woman” fixation. On the one hand, I applauded the fact that both characters gave some real consideration to the problems inherent in such a relationship, but some of it seemed like merely a rehashing of tales told before. It also made David come across as indecisive in how he treated Hannah, and led to the kind of predictable separation between the lovers that many readers, including myself, find contrived.
What works best in this story is the relationship between Hannah and David itself. I liked these characters, probably in part because they don’t fit the stereotypes I so often see in Native American romances. He is certainly competent and capable, but isn’t portrayed as magically gifted (unless you count the ease with which he conjures usable lodgings and such) or inherently superior to other men by virtue of his ethnicity. On the other hand, this may suggest a flaw in his characterization as well. Even though he is described as being part-Native American, there is nothing really noteworthy that distinguishes him from, say, a Caucasian man with dark coloring who knows a few Comanche phrases.
Hannah is a heroine I could enjoy: soft in all the ways that count, but not about to put up with any nonsense from either the students she teaches or from David. The love scenes are not only sensuous but very romantic and tender, and although Hannah’s occasional take-charge attitude in the bedroom might seem out of character for a virginal heroine, the intensity of her prolonged interest in and feelings for David might reasonably explain this. The story earned some points with me simply because of its “loved-from-afar” theme, one I have a difficult time resisting.
In view of its many fundamental flaws, I would have to limit my recommendation of Hannah’s Half-Breed to a marginal one. Overall, it requires too much suspension of disbelief, more than I think the average reader is willing to give. But, for that reader who, like me, is willing to overlook the many noted shortcomings to find the pearl of the love story within, this one might be worth a look.