Romance novels with a Native American theme can be iffy. Many such historicals revolve around a Native American savage taking a beautiful white woman and having his way with her. Justifiably, these books come under some harsh criticism. Fortunately, Kate Lyon’s debut offers an excellent portrayal of Native American life and the problems that arise when straddling two cultures, along with interesting, multidimensional characters.
War chief Black Eagle knows he must stop the massacre of buffalos by the white man before his people starve. With no immediate answers available, Black Eagle goes into seclusion to perform a vision quest, hoping for an explanation. The Great Spirit answers, but in a manner shocking to Black Eagle – he is sent a beautiful woman. He believes that she is the answer to his problems until she speaks and he realizes that the woman is an enemy to his people. She looks Comanche, yet she speaks with the white tongue. Black Eagle should kill her, yet he cannot go against the Great Spirit nor his own desire to protect her.
Modern day Native American Kris Baldwin seems to be getting her life on track. She plans to teach her Comanche people and has a wonderful relationship with her grandmother, a medicine woman. Then the inexplicable happens when Kris is sucked into another time. When she awakens, she finds herself in the arms of Black Eagle. There is something strange about the man – his Comanche clothing is just too authentic looking, his English too poorly spoken, and his antagonism toward her too great. But the biggest surprise is yet to come: Black Eagle thinks Kris has been sent by the Great Spirit and that it is up to her to save his people from the white man.
No matter how many times Kris tells Black Eagle that she has nothing to offer his tribe, the man does not believe her and, instead, insists on taking her to his village to meet with the tribe and help them stop the white man. Even when Kris tells the truth – that there is no way to stop the whites – Black Eagle will not let her go back home. But how can Kris help the tribe when they don’t believe her and won’t listen to her advice? How is she supposed to save the tribe when no one will listen? And how is she supposed to save Black Eagle when she can’t stay in his time and he will not go back to hers?
Even a person with the most rudimentary knowledge of American history knows that most Native Americans ended up on reservations, a fact that made this book a page-turner for me since I kept wondering how the ending would be resolved. I knew it had to have a happy ending, yet how could that be when Kris would not be happy staying in the 1800s and Black Eagle would never go to her time? The best thing about this book, however, is that Lyon does not belittle Native Americans by portraying them not as innocent, nature-loving do-gooders, but as human beings with a variety of emotions and temperaments. She also goes against the stereotypes of portraying Native Americans as some vanished civilization, showing them instead as a culture that is actually still alive and present.
Kris is probably the least developed character in the book since many of her scenes revolve around her confusion and desire to get back home and we never really get to know her in any other way. But, with that exception, the overall characterizations are excellent; the book is peopled by a variety of individuals with a variety of issues and beliefs. Lyon has a brilliant sense of culture, history, and the emotions that go along with someone straddling two different ethnic groups and this shows in her writing. This book also raises some interesting questions. For instance, can we really change the past?
There are two different villains in this book, one tangible, the other mystical. Unfortunately, there is no real reason for the mystical villain and the whole premise left me feeling a bit confused. Additionally, because there is so much focus on the culture of the Comanche and their many problems, I didn’t feel as deep a connection as I might have between Kris and Black Eagle. I don’t know nearly enough about the Comanche culture to know if Lyons portrays them as true to life and it would be interesting to hear the opinion of a Comanche tribe member. But I can discuss the writing itself and the fact that this book is a fast-paced read that goes against the stereotype of the typical Native American romance novel and focuses instead on character development, history, and culture. And for that I cannot recommend it strongly enough.