Untamed has some wonderful characters and a secondary romance that is so sweet and tender that I teared up and cried as I read it. Untamed also has a plot that can’t quite make up its mind what to be:
- A falling down funny farce
- A tale of the horrors faced by the Cheyenne on the reservation
- A tale of a man and woman getting to know each other and falling in love
- A tale of a woman’s self-discovery
All these elements do battle for supremacy in Untamed but none of them finally win, giving the book a very uneven tone – but the engaging characters make this a fairly enjoyable read despite the overabundance of plot.
Josephine Baum is the only girl in a family of fifteen brothers. She has tended the house and her invalid mother since she was just a little girl. Her stepfather is a complete and total jerk. When he finds Josie kissing a neighbor, he drags her to town and drops her off at the local brothel. Poor Josie tries to earn her keep by doing laundry and running errands, but it is clear that Lola the madame is soon going to make her work (you know what I mean).
Meanwhile, Daniel McCord, the Indian Agent for the Cheyenne Reservation, is in trouble. Daniel is half-Cheyenne himself and is struggling to do the right thing for the tribe, unlike most of the other agents. Daniel feels a lot of guilt because his father was a buffalo hunter and he sees what the loss of the buffalo has done to the Cheyenne’s very soul. Right now though, Daniel can barely move due to a badly broken leg.
Daniel’s brother-in-law, Long Belly decides that they need a woman to care for them, so he goes into town and buys Josie for Daniel and also buys a woman for himself – a young Black woman named Sissy.
Daniel is astonished and Josie is beligerant and not cooperative at all. She definitely does not want to keep house for a lot of men again and deliberately botches the housework to the point that Long Belly dubs her “Broken Dishes.” In the meantime, Sissy and Long Belly grow attached to each other and the romance between the young woman who has been used and abused by so many men and the Indian who grows to love her is one of the dearest and tenderest secondary romances I have ever seen. I wanted to see more of them.
Daniel and Josie marry, but their fragile relationship is threatened when Daniel brings his two sons from his first marriage (he is a widower) to live with them and Josie finds herself pregnant. Just what she has always wanted, more men to take care of! But Daniel is not like her step-father and Josie slowly realizes that being a woman does not mean being a downtrodden drudge – not with Daniel.
I have only given a bare-bones outline of the plot of Untamed. It is so full of ideas and storylines that several books could be written from it. That’s good, because it did keep me interested till the end, but that’s also not so good, because several potentially interesting sub-plots did not get treated as extensively as I would have liked.
The main strength of Untamed are the characters who were funny, endearing and engaging, especially Daniel’s sons, Two Moons and Bang. I adore little boys and they were very typical – all boy and a yard wide – mischievous, but not too much. I wish Sharon Ihle would come back to Untamed again and pick up on some of the sub-plots. I’d like to see more of these characters – maybe when Two Moons and Bang grow up?