Desert Isle Keeper
Let me begin by stating that this is not a romance, in the way that we usually mean the term here at AAR. Let me further state that this book is not for the squeamish – the level of violence depicted is high and often graphic. That said, if you’re up to a compelling tale with a strong and unexpected love story, set against a heartbreaking conflict, I urge you to find and read a copy of Satanta’s Woman.
Near the end of the War Between the States, Adrianne Chastain, thrice-widowed mother and grandmother, rancher and businesswoman, is captured by a raiding party of Kiowa Indians led by a ruthless chief, Satanta. She sees her children murdered; one of her granddaughters is given as a trophy to the Comanches, while the other accompanies her to Satanta’s village, where Adrianne becomes his family’s slave. Her physical strength and the drive to get back what’s left of her family keep her alive, at least in the beginning. As the weeks and months pass, she comes to see the good in the way of life that’s been forced on her and in the people who’ve turned her world upside down, but she finds it almost impossible to reconcile the two sides of their natures. How can such stark brutality exist side by side with the gentleness and affection she sees?
Satanta cannot understand this white woman: why can’t she just accept what’s happened and give herself up to the inevitability of the situation? She’s here, so she might as well make the best of it, forget about finding her granddaughter and returning to the white world. He captured her fair and square, so she’s his, to do with as he pleases. But Adrianne is very stubborn and refuses to give in to him. After an initially unsatisfying encounter (read rape), something holds him back from forcing himself on her until she is able to reconcile the differences between their two views of life, to find some kind of harmony within herself. And even then she does not delude herself about the bittersweet outcome of her capitulation.
Adrianne’s story is fascinating; no less fascinating is the process whereby she integrates these two diametrically opposed worlds, internalizing the good and bad of both to create a vision of the universe that makes sense to her. There’s a moment, when she acknowledges to Satanta that she’s falling in love with him, that catches this beautifully:
“You cannot make me forget my children.” Adrianne caressed his hand on her arm, then lifted it away. “This beautiful hand killed my son.” She looked into Satanta’s eyes. “Loving you, I would betray him….If my body cried out for you, Satanta, my mind and heart would still remember my dead children. I could not give myself to you.” Then, walking into the depths, stripping off her clothes, she floated into the glowing red embrace of the Brazos, or, as it was written on the Spanish maps, Los Brazos de Dios, The Arms of God.
Painful, yet beautiful, yes? The whole book is filled with this sort of anguish and poetry. You know this story cannot have a happy ending – you know it – and yet it draws you on through the power of its words and images. In very few words, often by saying less instead of more, Haseloff creates characters that linger: Adrianne, losing her family, her pride, her dignity, only to find herself; Satanta, an inflexible man who learns to bend to the power of emotions; his wife Woven Basket, whom Adrianne comes to love as the sister she never had. There are unforgettable scenes, like the bloody raid that starts everything off, and the hunt when Adrianne learns how to cure buffalo. Details of everyday life among Plains Indians are rendered in a manner many romance writers can only dream of being able to copy, matter-of-fact but never boring or overwhelming the main story.
Yes, it’s gory; yes, you can see the non-HEA right from the first page. So what? If you want to stretch your reading wings, try this Western. Received wisdom is that it’s a dying genre. As long as Cynthia Haseloff is writing stories like Satanta’s Woman, however, reports of the genre’s death are highly premature.