The Savage Heart
Grade : B

Although I would be hard-pressed to say this is one of the best romance novels ever written, I will say that I enjoyed it enough to lose sleep over it. I started reading it at ten o’clock at night and didn’t quit until I finished it in the wee hours of the morning.

The best thing about this book and probably the main reason why I liked it so much is that, from the prologue on, it kept the hero and the heroine together. Matt Davis and Tess Meredith are never separated by more than a couple pages and their story is simply just that – their story. They are the focus of the book and, while the rest of the story is certainly interesting, it pales next to the main event.

The story begins on a Montana hillside in the spring of 1891 when Tess, then only fourteen, and Matt, early twenties, are saying their “final” goodbyes as Matt heads off to Chicago for school. Matt Davis, who is actually a Sioux Indian named Raven Following, meets Tess after his particular band of Sioux is massacred and he is left gravely wounded. Tess and her father nurse Matt back to health and, in the process, a special bond forms between Matt and Tess. A bond that Matt, unbeknownst to Tess, solidifies with a secret Sioux wedding ceremony before his departure.

They keep in touch over the years and, after her father dies in 1903, Tess moves to Chicago to be near Matt. When he meets her at the train station and finds out she has no place to stay, he says that there just might (conveniently) be a room available at the boarding house where he is staying. They decide to use the “old cousin routine” as an explanation for how they know each other and Matt introduces Tess around town as such, but nobody believes them. Time and distance have only intensified their feelings for each other and they find themselves helpless against the onslaught of feelings gradually being unleashed now that they are both adults and living in such close proximity.

Tess and Matt’s relationship was intense. I could really feel how they felt about each other and one of the reasons for this was the very well written dialogue. It was witty repartee with a purpose and it really helped Tess and Matt come alive. The story set a quick, snappy pace that was good and, at the same time, was also probably one of the only reasons I felt somewhat dissatisfied with the book. Sometimes it seemed like it was moving along too quickly. However, one of the reasons this story was so likeable is that it was first and foremost the story of the romance between two people and it never strayed far from its purpose, even if a little story depth got sacrificed in the process.

Matt and Tess are both strong characters who meet their feelings openly, honestly, and head-on. Tess is involved in the then fledgling woman’s movement and the book tends to get a bit preachy on the subject, but not really to excess. Matt is an enigma. He presents himself to the world as Matt Davis, a wealthy and successful private investigator. At heart, however, he is still a man proud of his heritage. He may have changed his name, but he still wears his hair in a very long ponytail that he somehow, although I can’t envision how, manages to hide. Tess kept fantasizing about what he would look like with his hair let out of the ponytail and hanging down to his waist and, truth to tell, so did I. Suffice it to say, he put us both out of our misery.

I’ve always enjoyed all of these Diana Palmer stories (Lacy, Trilby, Amelia, Nora, Noelle, Magnolia) that are set around the turn-of-the-century and this story is no exception. Actually, Matt is a character from an earlier book, and I remember thinking when I finished reading that story (Noelle) that I hoped he would have his own book someday. Well, he got his own story, and it’s a good one.

Reviewed by Anne Ritter

Grade: B

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 31, 1998

Publication Date: 08/1997

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