by Merline Lovelace, historical (2003)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-707-X
This book needs an extra 200 pages more and a better heroine. Merline Lovelace's A Savage Beauty has a beautifully complex hero Daniel Morgan and the story is gripping, but these come with the rushed feel, choppy pacing, and a heroine that severely needs some brainpower that make up the rest of the book.
Louise Therese Chartier is a half-Osage woman that is married to the French trapper Henri. Sgt Daniel Morgan is traveling with an exploration party led by Lt James Wilkinson. Wilkinson is wounded, so Daniel is temporarily in charge. Henri is fatally attacked by a cougar while showing Daniel the sights of Oklahoma, and before the man dies, he exacts a promise from Daniel to take care of "Louis". "Louis" turns out to be a woman, Henri's wife to boot, much to Daniel's surprise. He takes Louise along with the exploration party, hoping to drop Louise off at the next Osage settlement. Things, however, never go as planned.
Daniel is married, but his story can't exactly be viewed in a stark black-and-white way. Unfortunately, the author has him lusting after Louise when Louise is... well, let's just say that this woman has no restrain or common sense. She and her people believe that she is cursed with bad luck, but when bad luck does befall her, she doesn't know how to do the right thing. She's either mouthing off at the top of her voice - making things worse - or she's dismissing everything around her like some bizarre Little Miss Thang Pocahontas. Louise's behavior is either child-like innocence (although she is very good at fellatio - is Ms Lovelace catering to the Lolita Readers Club now?) or reckless tomfoolery. All in all, she's not a good heroine at all, not even close. Daniel is much, much better, as his anguish and angst are handled in a less stereotypical manner. In the late half of the book, he becomes a really good tortured hero - he's almost insane at some points. I like this guy, and it's too bad that the heroine doesn't come close to measuring up when it comes to being as good a character as he.
The plot is a disappointment. It's riddled with clichés, from the One Bad Man in the hero's team that wants to rape our heroine and more to other miscellanous Western road trip romance stuff. It also doesn't shy from violence and death, not that I am complaining as this is supposed to be the book one of the author's chronicles of the history of Oklahoma. You don't write santized happy fun stories in this context. It's just too bad that the story is mostly stereotypical at too many places and the pace is choppy. Scenes often jump from place to place abruptly and plot developments are often introduced out of the blue. Maybe a few hundred or so pages more will allow the story to flow more smoothly.
A Savage Beauty is a decent read, thanks to Daniel and the author's effective storytelling style that evokes the fear, terpidation, and even excitement of life on the trail to New Orleans along the Arkansas River. Still, there are better books by the author out there that tell a great story starring well-written characters. In comparison, A Savage Beauty merely has a great hero and a decent story.
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