Lord Of The Plains
Velda Sherrod’s Lord Of The Plains contains a little bit of originality in plot, but hardly enough to overcome its problems of unsympathic characters, clichéd and condescending attitudes toward American Indians, and painfully poor dialogue.
Kate Hartland is a saloon singer whose only goal is to earn money to send back to her sister Maureen in Missouri. Maureen needs the money to escape having to marry the man her mother and lecherous stepfather have picked out for her. We know that Kate made her escape unaided – although we don’t know how – and has somehow come West and found semi-respectable work in order to support herself. But she’s not earning any more than her keep, which is why she makes the dramatic decision to sell her virginity to a handsome stranger for 100 dollars. Of course, she doesn’t tell him she’s a virgin. But then, there are things he’s not telling her.
Sean O’Brien is the son of an Irishman and his Comanche wife, raised in two worlds, but fully accepted in only one – the world of his mother, in the tribe of his grandfather, Stone Wolf. In the world of the whites, he hides behind his Irish brogue, and pulls his long hair up under a “sock cap.” In the world of the Comanche, he’s known as Grayhawk, grandson of the chief.
Kate apparently doesn’t get suspicious when she goes to bed with a man wearing a “sock cap,” but that all changes when she flees saloon owner Nathan Boggs’ unwanted advances and ends up captured by hated Indians, like the ones who killed her sainted father years before. Suddenly, she finds herself bartered for a horse, and married in a Comanche ceremony to a frightening, war-painted brave. It’s only when he strips away the paint that she realizes her new husband is the man to whom she sold herself. And she is not happy to be sold once again.
Kate is not a particularly likable character. She hates Indians, because they killed her beloved father. Well, maybe not these Indians, but some Indians did, so they’re all evil. I could have perhaps accepted this perfectly historically accurate prejudice – if she were consistent. But despite her total and utter hatred and contempt for Indians, when she meets a recently-freed slave living on Sean’s ranch, she treats him with as much respect as if he were white, and chastises that man’s white female ward for doing otherwise. Hardly historically likely, especially since she came from Civil War-era Missouri. But hate Indians and respect blacks she does, right up to the end of the book, where she is gagging at the idea of bearing part-Indian children, just moments before she and Sean confess their love for each other. It was pretty hard for me to swallow.
As a character, Sean was, for the most part, okay. However, his behavior wasn’t consistent. Supposedly consumed by lust for Kate, he would back off almost immediately every time they got at all intimate. Now, don’t get me wrong, a hero who doesn’t force himself on the heroine is certainly a plus, but when the allgedly lust-consumed hero translates such telling responses as a sexually dazed-and-confused “what?” or an indecisive “well…” into a definitive “no, I don’t want to make love with you,” I have to admit, my credulity was strained.
Another problem with Sean is the way he’s referred to. When he’s among whites, the narrator calls him Sean. When he’s among Comanche, the narrator calls him Hawk. I got the feeling the author couldn’t decide which to call him, and so went with both. It’s not entirely confusing, but it’s certainly a distraction, particularly when the author uses both names on the same page.
However, by far the most problematic aspect of Sean was his hideous and completely inconsistent Irish-accent. It comes and goes, apparently showing up only when the author thinks to throw it in. It was actually the number one cause of me throwing this book down every time I tried to get into it. It’s as bad as the worst fake and cheesy accent you’ve heard – and then some. Completely unconvincing, and even more completely irritating.
Much of the book takes place in the Indian camp. For some reason, not a single one of the Indians Kate comes in contact with can pronounce a single English word, including the simple ones she tries to teach them. “Kate” is pronounced “Kite” while “sing” is mispronounced as “shang.” This is hard to believe, particularly when taken together – they can pronounce the sound of “a” in “shang” but somehow couldn’t do it in “Kate.” And how “sing” became “sang” altogether is a mystery in itself. They also cannot pronounce the word “work,” which they say as “wok,” perhaps the only believable linguistically aspect of the novel…but I digress.
Also in the Indian camp, the observant reader will notice that these are the “good” Comanche; throughout the course of the book, they never attack anyone except to aid Kate and Sean/Hawk, or to raid horses. There’s a devastating Comanche attack in the story, but not by this tribe. Also, despite the fact that it is common practice among Comanche to take white children and raise them as Comanche, Kate apparently notices no other whites in the village, neither captured women like herself, nor kidnapped children. Apparently she’s fallen among the only peaceful Comanche in the West.
All in all, this book combines elements of improbability and irritation with poorly realized characters, to form a story that is neither enjoyable nor particularly readable. If you’re looking for a really good Western with a half-Indian hero, pass on this one and pick up Johanna Lindsey’s Savage Thunder, instead. You’ll be glad you did.