by Karen Kay, historical (2004)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82068-4
I can mention that The Princess And The Wolf is a fictionalized Native American love story inspired by Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, but what's the point? Jean Baptiste Charbonneau will be appalled at the lack of consistent characterization and the abundance of silly conflicts marring this story.
Just like Charbonneau, our hero High Wolf befriends an European prince, in this case the German prince Alathom. High Wolf meets Alathom's friend Sierra while he's doing his buddy-wuddy thing with Alathom and they (High Wolf and Sierra, that is) fall in love and plan to elope. An evil priest easily creates a Big Misunderstanding where Sierra thinks that High Wolf left because he doesn't care and he thinks that she has run off and married Alathom instead.
Ten years later, Alathom is missing. Sierra, who has eventually married him, comes to America to search for him after she is tired of people at court looking at her funny. She asks High Wolf for help. By the way, she's still conveniently a virgin, having married Alathom by proxy before that thoughtless man vanishes. High Wolf hates her for betraying him however, and he doesn't care. That is, until Sierra predictably is in danger and he has to save her. The story is pretty predictable from thereon.
The thing is, this book is plotted with the sophistication of a Ladybird Nursery Reader level. Sierra behaves like a spoiled idiot but the author also sees fit for Sierra to stop and launch into stilted soapbox speeches about bigotry and prejudice when Ms Kay decides that the reader will just die without being subjected to the soapbox every few pages. Sierra's enlightened speeches are out of character because there's no reason for me to believe in any where in this story that Sierra has the self-awareness to give such speeches. It is hard to believe also that Sierra, a Princess, and her maid would speak to each other like equals. Sierra isn't a character as much as she is a cipher whose personality changes from chapter to chapter to suit the author's whims.
Regarding High Wolf, he's nearly as problematic as Sierra. Nowhere in this book am I given a glimpse as to why he or his tribe agree to playing brother to a German prince when it's obvious that the Clan of the Wolf aren't too fond of Those People. Wolf's backstory is just is, with Ms Kay telling me how it is without showing me why it came to be that way. He and Sierra spend a long time to figure out that they have been had ten years ago, way too long for them to qualify as "intelligent" people.
The romance is contrived. Sexual tension arises from forced proximity where danger, for some reason, always forces Sierra to be near-naked or half-naked and Wolf would be forced to administer hands-on TLC to soothe pain away. When these people can't even do the bobo right without being forced into it by circumstances, they can't be too smart, can they?
I haven't even gone into the stilted writing. Let's just say that inconsistent characterization, a silly romance filled with contrivances to get everybody naked, lots of soapbox moments passed off as conversations, and gratuitous Native American mysticism elements all combine to make The Princess And The Wolf a dry and befuddling read. It's time that authors stop using "Native American romance" as an excuse to avoid writing well like their fellow sisters in other subgenres. Politically correct apologia can only carry one so far when it comes to writing a good book.
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