Rider On Fire
In her early books for Silhouette Intimate Moments, Sharon Sala often blended romantic suspense elements with a special touch of magic that made them powerful, emotional reads. Titles like Annie and the Outlaw and When You Call My Name showcased her distinctive writing style and remain some of the most unique series books I’ve ever read. Her latest, Rider on Fire, harkens back to those early entries. It balances a suspense plot featuring a strong heroine with elements of Native American mysticism and a moving story about rediscovered family. While it’s not on the same level as those earlier books, it’s still a good read.
Native American artist Franklin Blue Cat is dying of cancer and has only a few months left to live. At the age of sixty, he has no family, though he often dreams of Leila, the woman he loved and lost thirty years earlier. One night his dream reveals something new to him: that Leila was pregnant when she left him, and he has a child he never knew about somewhere. He asks his friend Adam Two Eagles to help him perform a ritual calling on the Old Ones, his people’s great ancient warriors, to help him find his child and bring her home.
DEA agent Sonora Jordan is in the middle of an arrest when she’s suddenly stopped short by a vision of an old Native American man. She manages to snap out of it in time to take out one of her targets when he threatens her partner. This earns her the wrath of the man’s brother, drug lord Miguel Garcia, who vows to avenge his brother’s death. With a contract on her life, Sonora’s boss suggests she make herself scarce until Garcia is apprehended. Sonora takes off on her motorcycle with no particular destination in mind, only to find herself drawn to Oklahoma, where the old man of her vision and a younger one of her dreams await her.
This is Sala’s first series romance in three years, and it’s a good mixture of both her recent single-titles and her early Silhouette Intimate Moments, told with her distinctive style. The suspense subplot is gritty and believable. As Sonora reunites with her father, the author also follows Garcia’s quest to track her down. He’s a violent and relentless villain. The author nicely balances the more character-driven storyline involving Sonora as she gets to know her father and Adam with this subplot, never letting the reader forget this very real threat is coming ever closer. There are some surprising moments, including a shocking sequence where Garcia sets into motion a series of events that leads to sweeping tragedy.
The heart of the story, though, belongs to Sonora, safe (or so she thinks) in Oklahoma. She’s a very strong heroine, a tough-minded and physically capable woman. Abandoned as a child, she never knew anything about her family and was forced to fend for herself in the world. I’m often annoyed when an author burdens a strong heroine with a sad past. It usually feels too much like a sop to romance readers who wouldn’t find her behavior acceptable or be able to relate to her otherwise. In this case, it wasn’t annoying at all, because it didn’t feel like the author was trying to diminish the heroine’s toughness by explaining it away. Sonora remains a kickass heroine through and through, one with enough dimensions to make her human while retaining her core of strength. The Native American elements also make her a more distinctive and unusual character than many romance heroines (I loved her tattoo in particular). The emotions between the father and daughter who never knew about the other are very effective, with several touching scenes. Meanwhile, the paranormal elements are used well throughout.
The aspect that worked the least for me was the actual romance. It was okay and had its moments, but most of the interactions between Sonora and Adam did nothing for me. The story’s most deeply felt emotions come from Sonora’s relationship with her father and her discovery of her heritage, not the love story.
Rider on Fire delivers the emotion and excitement of a good romantic suspense tale. I’ve often found Sala’s series books more satisfying than her single-titles. Here’s one more to add to the list.