Sometimes when you read a romance novel, you can imagine it adapted as a movie. You invent casting choices for the main characters, and envision sets and even background music. I didn’t do that with Night Raven. Instead, while reading this romance, I kept picturing a graphic novel. The characters all speak as if they are trapped in frames from a Marvel comic book. Consider this actual bit of dialogue between secondary characters:
Margaret: I won’t let you do it Craig!
Craig: I have no choice.
Additional dialogue of some substance, followed by…
Margaret: You can’t do it alone!
Craig: Yes I can.
Margaret: I don’t want to lose you Craig.
Craig: Don’t be afraid, Margaret.
And so it goes. Every time someone speaks, you can almost see the word bubble above their head, with all the appropriate bold characters and exclamation points. The internal dialogue is even worse. The following is from the prologue: “He knew who he was! He was Night Raven – a Sioux warrior who stood proud, alone and strong, dedicated to vengeance! He needed no one.” I read that and almost groaned aloud. But I thought to myself – that’s just the prologue. The author is just trying to set up the main characters. They can’t possibly continue to speak and think like that. I was wrong.
The action begins when the soldiers at Fort John Carter emerge victorious from a battle with the Sioux. They have captured one of their most infamous braves – Night Raven – who is dying of a gunshot wound. Dr. Edwina Keene (who is a pale and flat imitation of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) is ordered to save his life so that he may be brought to trial and hanged for his crimes. All together now, huh? If all they want is a hanging, then just let the guy die, for goodness sake. If instead, they’d rather he have a chance to escape, then by all means heal him up first. Night Raven, of course, escapes, taking Edwina hostage, and brings her back with him to the Sioux camp. Later on he forces himself upon her sexually, and then much later on they decide they love each other. That’s it. That’s the whole plot. Sorry if I gave away any spoilers.
There’s some intrigue thrown in as well involving one of Night Raven’s jilted Sioux lovers and the unreasoned enmity of the Commander of Fort John Carter, but all of that is really nothing more than window dressing. At one point we’re subjected to pages and pages of scene hopping: first the Fort, then the Sioux camp, then the Fort again, and so on, no of which disguises the fact that nothing is happening. Evil people are being evil, and good people are being good.
In fact, the villians, both of them, are painted in broad strokes right out of Marvel Comics 101. They have zero redeeming characteristics, and yet manage to gain the trust of all the secondary characters and turn them against the principals. The primary bad guy is constantly telling himself how smart he is, and how much he wants others to pay: “They would all pay – Edwina Keene, Captain Rice, and Night Raven. He would not be satisfied until that murdering Sioux dangled at the end of a rope for all to see![…]Yes…they’d pay.” Did I mention he’s xenophobic? The secondary villian is fond of repeating pithy quotes to herself like, “and when I have turned away your anger, my vengeance will begin.” You can just see the unwritten maniacal laughter that any good comic villian would have had in that thought bubble. It’s all so very silly.
I suppose the weak plot and bad dialogue could have been redeemed if these were otherwise strong characters whose successful courtship mattered to us. But Night Raven and Edwina spend several weeks together, and most of what we know of that time consists of incessant boinking preceeded each time by one of Night Raven’s deep and meaningful sentiments, such as: “You are mine, Edwina,” or “You cannot escape me, Edwina.” She says even less to him, yet somehow in the last ten pages they realize that they love each other. If that’s all you need in your romance novels to convince you of the characters’ regard for each other, then run out and buy this book today.
Unfortunately, there are even more flaws. Edwina’s speech, for instance, is inexplicably full of dropped g’s. I think that’s supposed to give her depth of character, but it only serves to be annoying. Much of Night Raven’s speech and internal dialogue is only one step up from “Me Tarzan, You Jane”, as if Ms. Barbieri is trying to make us realize that he’s a savage Indian even as she condemns the Fort Commander for xenophobia. It’s just too insulting, and if I hadn’t been writing this review, I never would have finished this book. I understand fellow AAR Reviewer Mary Ann Lien enjoyed two of Ms. Barbieri’s earlier releases; I’d rather have read them than this.