Miranda and the Warrior
It’s evident from the opening page of Miranda and the Warrior that we are dealing with a TSTL heroine. Annoyed because her father is “overprotective,” Miranda Thurston escapes from the fort her daddy commands as a U.S. Cavalry officer in order to visit a friend. Daddy is worried about Cheyenne raiding parties, but Miranda knows that’s silly; after all, she’s lived on the frontier all her life and knows how to take care of herself. On the second page, however, she has a nasty run-in with reality when she’s spotted by, you guessed it, a Cheyenne raiding party.
Miranda is eighteen, but she thinks and acts like a twelve-year-old. And she doesn’t get any brighter as the story wears on. Captured by the dreaded Shadow Walker, whose fearsome reputation as a warrior is well known even among the white settlers, she has every reason to fear for her life. Instead of adopting a conciliatory attitude, however, she mouths off at every opportunity, telling the Indians that “everyone in this camp will suffer” if she is not released. She’s utterly helpless, but that doesn’t stop her from threatening everyone in sight. Barbieri seems to be under the impression that this behavior is brave, rather than incredibly dumb.
Daddy, in the meantime, is having troubles of his own. At first his superiors in Washington refuse to let him search for Miranda, and the men who serve under him are disgusted by the fact that he abides by those orders, leaving his own daughter in the hands of the Indians. Eventually he goes to Washington to plead his case, and in his absence his own soldiers, who are eager to shed the blood of the Cheyenne, begin plotting against him. By her recklessly selfish act, then, Miranda undermines everything her father has worked for. It does have to be admitted that she’s sorry. A little. But not nearly enough, in my opinion. Primarily she’s sorry Daddy hasn’t come to rescue her yet.
In a rare display of common sense, Miranda doesn’t mention that her father is in charge of the local fort and has led attacks against the Cheyenne, for fear she’ll be treated even more harshly. And since she was dressed in ragged clothes for riding, Shadow Walker has no way of knowing that the cavalry will likely massacre the Cheyenne in order to get her back. (You’d think her father would actually be grateful to be rid of the feisty little wretch, but he, like doting fathers everywhere, misses his baby and wants desperately to get her back.)
Even though he believes Miranda is fairly worthless as a captive, Shadow Walker gives her as a servant to Rattling Blanket, a kind but feeble old woman (certainly not the worst fate that could befall her, under the circumstances). Miranda, however, stubbornly refuses to accept her status as servant or do a lick of work. Quite honestly, she should count her lucky stars the Cheyenne haven’t scalped her by page thirty or so, which at least would have had the effect of putting a mercifully prompt end to this novel.
Evidently, Elaine Barbieri thinks that teenagers (at whom this Avon True Romance is aimed) will identify with the headstrong, reckless, stubborn heroine. Maybe they will. But as a parent, all I could think was that Miranda needed to be grounded for at least a year. Maybe two.
Apparently, Shadow Walker thinks much the same. Eventually Miranda steals a pony and attempts to escape in full view of the camp (as I said, she is none too bright). When Shadow Walker pursues her, she is thrown from the pony and suffers a serious blow to the head. Shadow Walker becomes aware that he is losing status in the camp as a result of Miranda’s defiance (and his jealous enemy, Spotted Bear, gleefully uses this opportunity to make Shadow Walker look weak). Therefore, the next day Shadow Walker undertakes to “correct” Miranda. This involves taking her on a cross-country trip on which he lets her go hungry, makes her drink unpalatable water, and forces her to walk long distances barefoot while he rides. Remember, this is directly after she suffered a rather severe head injury. Despite the fact that Shadow Walker feels compassion for Miranda’s suffering, he didn’t really win any points with me during this portion of the book. At the least, he could have let her recover fully from her injury before making her walk across the frontier with bare feet.
Miranda and the Warrior features a harsh, unkind hero, along with a dimwitted heroine who makes Scarlett O’Hara look selfless by comparison. We’re left hoping the plot can somehow redeem the book. Unfortunately, the book boils down to a series of clashes between Miranda and Shadow Walker, with a couple of altercations with Spotted Bear thrown in for fun. Spotted Bear wants “the yellow-haired girl” for a nefarious purpose that Miranda, innocent virgin that she is, can’t quite fathom. But she grasps enough of the danger he poses to know she’d rather stay with Shadow Walker.
Thus, when Miranda suddenly discovers she’s concerned for Shadow Walker after he’s wounded in a fight with Spotted Bear, I’m not convinced. She’s quarreled with him, refused to help make camp even though he won’t let her have any food unless she helps, and threatened him repeatedly. Yet suddenly she’s deeply concerned by his cut arm. Is this blossoming young love or is it just a glimmering of common sense? Has she truly discovered, deep within her heart, affection for Shadow Walker, or has she just realized Spotted Bear would be even worse?
In a “captive romance” like this it’s never clear to me whether the heroine is really in love or just suffering from a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. This question undercut the book badly for me. It doesn’t seem that Miranda has a single good reason to fall in love with Shadow Walker. He captured her, he’s made her a servant, and he’s deliberately tormented her in an effort to force her to accept her servitude. And from Shadow Walker’s point of view, Miranda is a spoiled brat, and an enemy besides. Her people are systematically destroying his people. What could possibly be the attraction here?
Miranda does eventually redeem herself a bit, both in the mind of the Indians and the reader, when she performs an unselfish task. It illustrates she has grown somewhat throughout the course of the story, but one considerate action does not make for an admirable heroine, particularly as she gets kinder but no smarter.
Obviously I didn’t really connect with the characters or the plot. Adding to my ever-lengthening list of reasons to never read this book again was the fact that certain stylistic problems really annoyed me. Most notable was Barbieri’s tendency to omit some of the most interesting scenes. For example, we don’t get to see Miranda actually being captured by the Cheyenne since that information is conveyed in scattered flashbacks. And there is also a two-day period when Miranda and Shadow Walker finally stop fighting and begin instead to talk, laugh, and share confidences. This is obviously an extremely important period in their relationship, yet it is not shown. We are merely told about it, in extremely general terms. A little more conversation could have made us believe in the romance a little more, or strengthened our tenuous connection with the characters.
Also annoying is Barbieri’s wooden dialogue for the Indians. All the dialogue in the book is a bit on the stilted side, but the Indians in particular speak unnaturally. For example, Shadow Walker cuts off Miranda during one conversation by saying stiffly, “I wish to speak of this no more, for to do so would be to compromise the short time here that remains.” And at the end of the fight with Spotted Bear, while Shadow Walker is bleeding and presumably out of breath, he manages to issue a long speech that ends, “I would hear you relinquish your claim to the girl, once and for all, so that this dispute might not leave the Cheyenne nation with one less warrior to defend its honor.” Is he breathing heavily from the fight or from the effort of forcing out those long, awkward sentences?
I was hoping for an ending that would make my painful struggle through this book worthwhile, but sadly, one wasn’t forthcoming. The book winds up too abruptly and conveniently for me to believe that these characters will really find their happy ending. The happy ending is too pat, and given the historical realities surrounding the characters, none too believable. I enjoyed my last foray into the new Avon True Romance line, but this book didn’t work for me on any level. If Miranda hadn’t grown a trifle, it wouldn’t have had a single redeeming feature.
In the end, I closed Miranda and the Warrior suffused with one deep, heartfelt emotion: gratitude that it was finally over.