In 1859 West Kansas Territory, the half Native American and half Caucasian hero of this book is about to hang because he stole a horse—no matter that he was really reclaiming his own horse. He’s saved by a woman who’s half Chinese and half Caucasian. Sounds promising, right? So how could a writer not produce a stellar book? By touching only the surface aspects of their ethnicity and making them standard historic western fare
Fei Yen Tseng rescues Michael “Shadow” Ochoa—the second such rescue she’s made—at the gallows. Unlike her first rescue, she must marry this one on the spot instead of getting engaged to him and then throwing him back to the law.
She needs a husband in order to get the gold from her claim since Chinese women can’t own their own claims and Fei’s father, a demolition expert working for the railroad, is suffering from dementia. With the gold, Fei intends to rescue her cousin Lin who was sold by Fei’s father to one of their neighbors.
Shadow, one of the fierce outlaw group Hell’s Eight, says he’s not the marrying kind, mostly because he’s a big bad outlaw who is too rough a character to be domesticated. What he tells himself and what he turns out to be are two different animals.
Time and again, Fei must rescue Shadow, using her knowledge of dynamite and subterfuge to sneak around unseen to do so. Shadow postures while Fei does.
McCarty touches on the differences of “pure bred” versus “half bred” in both cultures and has Shadow find Fei’s clothing and her lapse into pidgin English cute. But a real meeting of the cultures and their amalgamation into a workable marriage never really takes place.
Fei sees Shadow as her personal dragon since he’s willing to kill the people she sees as her enemies. (Shadow’s response is that he doesn’t want to be compared to a lizard, deliberately missing the point of the comparison.) But when push comes to shove, Fei turns out to be the more blood-thirsty of the two, and also the one less worried about how society sees her.
Of Shadow’s heritage, readers will find out little, including any details about his tribe of birth. Being Indian is enough. That and his being a former Texas Ranger, then outlaw. Shadow is the iconic rapscallion Westerner who sees himself as unredeemable.
As they travel from the mine to the ranch where Lin is held, Fei proves herself time and again as the stronger of the two and the one more in touch with who she really is which diminishes Shadow’s stalwart character and makes him weak.
All in all, McCarty’s book is a waste of a wonderful premise since Fei could easily have been any woman in the West and Shadow any deluded cowboy.