When I was growing up, TV abounded with old westerns in which the good guys were always freshly bathed and clean shaven, the bad guys were always dirty with five o’clock shadows, and the Indians were white people dressed in buckskins and black wigs. Lone Eagle would make a marvelous script for one of those movies. Flat, stereotypical characters, dialogue bordering on the ridiculous, and a setting and plot long on sentimental romanticizing and short on historical realism characterize this book.
Zondra Poole is the seventeen-year old daughter of a black field slave and the rich, white master who has moved his family and slaves to the Yellowstone River Basin. Her father supposedly truly loves his black mistress although he allows her to live like every other slave except for those moments when he wants to have his way with her. She is content, though, since she loves him, and doesn’t hold it against him that he has sold off every child they have had (all black-skinned), keeping only Zondra because she is white. This man detests his wife who is certainly portrayed as detestable, detests his legitimate children as well, and treats his son so horribly that one can actually feel sorry for the young man despite the fact that he is an idiot. The son, as a result, hates his father, but hates his half-sister, Zondra, even more; he blames her for his father not loving him.
For her part, Zondra is tired of her existence and angry because she must live as a slave instead of in the lap of luxury like her half-brothers and sisters, so she decides to run away. She runs to the man she secretly fantasizes about, Lone Eagle, chief of the Crow tribe, who live as neighbors to Zondra’s father. She then becomes a wanted woman. Lone Eagle wants her, her father wants her back, her half-brother wants to have her for himself, and the resulting antics make for entertainment only if one is a reader who can swallow just about anything.
The inconsistencies begin in the very first chapter, and never let up. Though half-black Zondra has fair skin, which certainly does happen, but she is described as having skin “as white as clouds in a spring sky,” a pretty good trick for a woman of any race who spends every day working the fields. Furthermore, though a slave, she is able to slip away when she pleases with no repercussions. One wonders how a slave, who only occasionally is allowed to sneak off for a ride with her father who won’t publicly acknowledge her, has become so skilled at handling a horse that a Crow chief would notice her for it.
Throughout the book, people sneak in and out of Indian villages and the chiefs’ tepees without arousing the notice of those keeping watch or waking the occupants of said tepees, and steal horses with no one the wiser. After the first chapter, Lone Eagle and all the other Indians speak perfect English. Yet amazingly enough, he doesn’t know what a black person is, has never seen a domestic cat, and thinks the windows in houses are eyes. I wonder where he learned his fluent English? In fact, once you get past the first meeting between Zondra and Lone Eagle, his vocabulary would make an English professor proud. The whites, on the other hand, all speak a silly mixture of poor grammar mixed with highly unlikely word choices. Yes, this book would have fit right in with the Hollywood of old.
The dialogue isn’t the only problem, however; purple prose appears on nearly every page. Here are a couple of examples:
She could hardly control her thunderous, racing heart, as she was finally able to see just how handsome he was.
Oh, how she loved him. With all her heart she loved him. She would do anything for him. She glanced over at him, wondering if he was ever going to tell her that she must call him her lord. She hoped not. She still wasn’t willing to do that for anyone!
The sad truth is that history itself provides all the conflict and emotion that is needed to make this story a touching and memorable one. Hopeless love between people of two classes, social stigmas, the agony felt by a son who has never had his father’s love or respect, the conflict between indigenous peoples and those who claimed their land, and a daughter’s yearning to be rightfully acknowledged by her father are only a few of the issues that could have given this book depth and feeling. Instead, the characters are flat stereotypes who are almost universally unlikable, the events are far-fetched and unbelievable, the conflicts are mostly imaginary and overcome far too simply. The sounds, the smells, the tastes of that time in history are missing and all that is left is a predictable tale with a few hot love scenes. Lone Eagle is romance at its stereotypical worst, as its detractors might imagine it.
|Reviewer:||Mary Ann Lien|
|Review Date:||November 2, 1998|